Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Gov’t blamed as union war intensifies

Labour unions in Botswana have decried what they called divide and rule tactics that government has employed to cripple the unions and turn them into lame duck representatives who cannot challenge the employer and effectively represent the interest of their members.

This came to the fore this week after it emerged that the Botswana Public Employees Union and Manual Workers Union have once again slammed the decision by other labour unions to embark on a mass demonstration that is aimed at projecting their displeasure with government’s decision to award them with an across the board 15 % salary increment while greatly disregarding the recommendations of the recent public service salaries review commission.

Manual Workers Union Administrative Secretary, Johnson Motshwarakgole, was last week quoted as saying that the move to embark on a nationwide march was ill advised and they will not be party to short cut initiatives that will not help to solve labour problems.

While other public sector federations, like the Botswana Secondary Education Teachers Union, Botswana Teachers Union and the Botswana Local and Land board Workers Union, have joined forces with other government associations that have not yet unionized to challenge government over the salary increment, BOPEU and MWU have chosen to go it alone and negotiate with government separately.

BOSETU President, Eric Ditau, was on Friday almost in tears when he lambasted BOPEU and MWU for selling out to government as they have been mollie-coddled into becoming a coterie of sooth-sayers who have sold out the masses because they enjoy preferential treatment from the employer.

“Government has succeeded in disorientating us and I believe that the blame lies with MWU. History will judge them harshly because they are disoriented and they are selling out to the labour force,” said an emotional Ditau at a Mine Workers Union conference in Francistown on Friday.

Meanwhile, BOSETU Secretary General, Kwenasebele Modukanele, has dismissed repeated denials by BOPEU and MWU that they have not been invited to the coalition mass action, vehemently maintaining that the duo have shunned repeated invitations to join the coalition.

The Sunday Standard is further informed that the regional structures of the two unions have also explained to the union coalition that they have received express instructions from their leadership not to work in tandem with any other labour unions.

After the announcement of the across the board 15 % salary increment, the labour movement coalition met and decided to form a national organizing committee and engage a consultant to establish a position paper through which they could confront government. Their main bone of contention is that the 15 % salary increment is not enough and that government has surprisingly decided to ignore all of the recommendations made by the salaries review commission.

It also emerged that efforts by the labour movement coalition to meet Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Minister, Daniel Kwelagobe, were shunned twice as the minister initially refused to meet them while the second meeting, which was scheduled for Thursday last week, failed because it coincided with the Botswana Democratic Party congress.

However the coalition has expressed surprise that the minister found time to meet BOPEU and MWU officials but has twice failed to honour scheduled meetings with other labour unions. The Sunday Standard is also informed that even after the presentation of the government white paper to the labour movements, government engaged BOPEU and MWU officials in extensive discussions, which discussions were not extended to BFTU affiliates.

The stand off between BFTU affiliates on the one hand and BOPEU and MWU affiliates on the other hand is an old story. BFTU has in the past decried what they termed the preferential treatment that BOPEU and MWU seem to be enjoying from government, which is in stark contrast to the combative nature that government adopts when negotiating with BFTU affiliates. Things came to a head last year when it emerged that the BOPEU and MWU duo were at an advanced stage of forming a splinter federation that would rival the embattled BFTU.

The BFTU leadership and its affiliates decried the formation of this federation saying it was part of a larger ploy by government to weaken the labour movement. BOPEU and MWU leaders, Andrew Motsamai and Johnson Motshwarakgole, explained that they were not looking to divide the labour movement but rather to form a public sector federation that would specifically represent the interests if the public sector.

Information reaching The Sunday Standard indicates that the efforts of the two to lure other public sector labour unions which are affiliated to BFTU, especially powerhouses like BTU, BOSETU and BLLAWU, proved futile as the trio, which has repeatedly taken government to the cleaners over a number of issues, felt that the move was largely meant to turn the labour movement into lame ducks who suck up to the employer.

Motsamai went on record in The Sunday Standard saying that the envisaged public sector federation was a noble initiative that is not in any way sponsored by government. He added that the expectation by BFTU that unionized public sector labour movements would immediately affiliate to it is flawed as it fails to appreciate international trends and best practices.

“It is reasonably clear that the BFTU wants to promote trade union monopoly, and any effort made to unite the public sector unions into a stronger force shall always be seen as a challenge to them,” he charged.

Last year, BFTU affiliates who have always accused government officials of snubbing their union functions were incensed after it emerged that Vice President Ian Khama and other high profile government officials had converged at BOPEU’s inaugural conference saying that the same courtesy is not usually extended to them.

BTU president, Japhta Radibe, said that this was proof of government’s discriminatory treatment as it seemed to be dealing harshly with “renegade” unions while treating BOPEU, which is said to be sucking up to government, with kid gloves.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the South African National Union of Mine Workers, Senzeni Zokwana, on Friday called for the labour unions to unite for a common cause and desist from divisive petty politics. ”Forming counter federations will only work to weaken you. Leaders must find a common ground. We might have internal differences, but to the public we must always smoke the same pipe,” he implored.

It has also emerged that the planned mass action that was scheduled for Monday has been postponed as it would mar the inauguration of Vice President Ian Khama as President the following day.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper