Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Government/union impasse escalates into war of words

Hopes of a last minute compromise to avert the looming public sector strike action were fading this week as the impasse between government and workers union escalated into a war of words.

With only a week before the historic public sector strike, the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Mokgweetsi Masisi, stopped short of dismissing the union as irresponsible.

“Their fundamental interest is to destroy the country’s economy to keep their jobs,” said the minister.

Botswana Federation of Public Sector Union’s General Secretary, Andrew Motsamai, on the other hand, accused government of treating public sector salary reviews as an afterthought.

He explained that the union presented their proposals for a salary review long before the national budget was put together. Government, however, did not factor the workers’ proposal when computing the budget.

“They created this problem for themselves…public servants were suppose to benefit,” he said.
“For the past three years they have been labouring under the pretext that public officers are not part of the equation and they are used to excluding public officers,” Motsamai stated.

“They can still go to parliament and ask for money; they are making it our problem yet they could have avoided all this.”

The verbal sparring comes after the collapse of negotiations for public sector salaries. The Union demands a 16 percent salary hike while government maintains that it can only offer a conditional 5 percent.

Masisi says that government will stop at nothing to avert a strike. He, however, points an accusing finger at the Union for not negotiating sincerely because it has not shifted towards a compromise.
“We have moved from 0 percent, to 2 percent and lately to 5 percent but the union has not shifted its position,” he told The Telegraph in an interview.

He said that government is being asked to shelve certain projects and take out money from certain ministries without due regard to the implications of such a move on government fiscal discipline and debt management.

He said the move would affect Botswana’ credit rating.

“It must be clear to everybody that we are completely in agreement that if we could afford it, we would be the first to offer our public officers a salary increment…but as a responsible government our responsibility is to exercise fiscal restraint.

He said that he is yet to know of a country in the world that has made salary increment during a recession.

“We are being asked to make history and it might be costly history,” he said.

He accused the Union leadership of seeking to destroy the country’s economy.

“Nobody wants a strike and we will do anything to avert a strike. A strike will not benefit anyone …I am sure ordinary members of the Union do not want a strike. A strike usually hurts others more than it does to others and the leadership is never affected,” says Masisi.

However, Motsamai sees things differently and stated in a separate interview that government’s 0 percent, 2 percent, and later 5 percent did not indicate a shift as all the offer letters were conditional.

“If the offer is in the future it cannot be conditional, we are prepared to move but we believe their gymnastics are not an offer,” says Motsamai.

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