Saturday, September 26, 2020

Gov’t treatment of Trade Unions is regressive and counterproductive

There is a court case that is ongoing pitting Botswana government and some public sector trade Unions, chiefly BOFEPUSO and BOPEU.

This follows a government decision to derecognize the unions on allegations of non-compliance with the Public Service Act of 2013.

There is all likelihood that following a strict interpretation, somewhere, somehow Trade Unions fell foul of the law. We are not sure about that. And that is for the courts to determine.

That notwithstanding, we are of the view that derecognising the unions was too far over the top.

In fact we hold the view that derecognising the Trade Unions is a decision much bigger than the interpretation of the law.

It is a political decision with far reaching consequences.

For a Government that has come into being swearing a determination to mend the country’s industrial relations, including getting Trade Unions to look at Government as partners rather than adversaries, this is in our view a counterproductive if not self-defeating decision.

We urge Government to reconsider its decision and get back to engage unions on the points of contention.

With such an engagement in place we urge Trade Unions on their part to withdraw what we nonetheless consider as legitimate litigation as a way of giving negotiations a chance.

For relations between government and Trade Unions to improve there has to be a sea change in how one perceives the other.

The administration of former president Ian Khama has been very unkind to trade Unions.

But that treatment pales in comparison to being derecognized by the new administration that had itself promised a break with the past.

Trade Unions no doubt need to reform.

Such reforms should mainly include governance and going back to basics by reminding themselves of their core mandate.

We do not subscribe to an ancient view that trade Unions should not dabble into politics.

Engaging in politics should be a way of furthering their primary and core mandate instead of moving away from such.

To that effect we note with dismay how many of Trade Unions have with time moved further and further away from the values of their members and closer and closer to being political parties.

Others have with time engaged in businesses that make their members poorer and their leaders richer.

All these are things that in our view require a long and honest process of self introspection.

For the sake of the country’s economy we call on President Mokgweetsi Masisi to stay the course on his reformative agenda. Botswana’s economy has been stagnant for far too long.

That stagnation has led to structural weaknesses that cannot afford to absorb any shocks that might come about as a result of any industrial relations hiatus.

In fact any small shake of the structure might lead to the entire edifice collapsing.

Government should accept Trade Unions as part of the country’s core governance and democratic institutions of Government.

Such institutions cannot exist at the pleasure of Government.

On the other hand Trade Unions should accept that their power, which has been steadily growing also comes with responsibilities and obligations.

Those responsibilities include observing the law, and also tampering their power with some measure of decorum and sensitivity and respect for the turf of other organs. It is the duty of every democratically elected government to ensure that laws of the country are obeyed and enforced.  In short “live and let live.”

Another thing is that Government should accept the bonafides of legally registered Trade Unions as irrevocable.

This will arm Government with a natural preparedness to accept criticism from such Unions, no matter how pointed without possible threats of derecognising them.

Recent past experience of relations between Government Trade Unions has been toxic and generally poisonous.

It is up to the two parties to grow up and be more tolerant.

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