There are growing fears that more than 500 civil servants who are on strike may lose their jobs should the industrial court declare the ongoing strike illegal.
In support of a counter application argued Friday, Directorate of Public Service Management attorney, Parks Tafa, told the court that more than 500 public servants charged with providing essential services have defied a court order issued last week instructing them back to work.
Tafa presented a list of names from cleaners and drivers to doctors countrywide who he said defied the call to go back to work. “For Princess Marina alone, approximately 41 doctors failed to comply with the court order at one stage or other thus placing in jeopardy the lives of many patients who are entrusted on them.”
Government has been under pressure from the Bretton Woods institutions to downside the public service, and there are fears that government may seize this moment.
He said despite the order being aired on Radio Botswana and Btv, the concerned employees failed to turn up for work. The DPSM is pressing for the strike by essential service workers to be declared illegal. Tafa presented the court with 40 annextures listing more than 500 names of public servants who he argues engaged in an illegal strike. He further argued that the workers are in contempt of court.
Tafa said, “The contempt demonstrated by members of the Unions has been of impunity.” The government misinformation campaign through the state media came back to bite them as the account of the strike presented by DPSM lawyers in court contradicted the spin peddled by government officials.
The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BOFEPUSO) argued before the industrial court that while government wants to interdict the strike because of dire need of services in Hospitals, this contradicted the assessment of the Ministry of Health state of affairs as reported by Minister John Seakgosing to the nation.
“The account of the impact of the strike is inconsistent with that presented by the government media. The picture that has been painted by the Government is that the strike has had little or no impact at all on the delivery of services,” read court papers filed by the Union. This line of argument is further pursued by Advocate Alec Freand who was fighting the union’s corner.
Pushing for a confirmation of a temporary order issued on Tuesday and directing all essential service public workers to return to work, Tafa, the DPSM lawyer, said that it was illegal for public sector employees in essential service to have engaged in the strike from the onset.
He told the court that the health sector was in dire need, adding that the state’s essential service employees throughout the public service should have referred their issue for mediation to the Commissioner of Labour. He said that the law requires that there be a segregation of employees if there is a deadlock.
He said even in its papers, the Union does not deny the adverse situation in hospitals.
“The other lot could go on with their strike, we only want those in essential service to be stopped,” he stated.
He said that if government were to go by the agreements between the government and Unions if any then such agreements would be licensing something prohibited by the legislature.
However, the Union lawyer, Freand, dismissed calls for the order to be made final. He argued that government had entered into an agreement with the Unions following a proposal by DPSM. He dismissed Tafa’s contention that there should have been segregation and the matter referred to arbitration.
He said that not only was government misreading a section of the Trade Dispute Act but also that the strike by the essential service employees is illegal is based on a wrong premise.
He said that if anything the conduct complained of could give reason for a breach of the strike rules but not warrant an interdict.
“It is not true that there is a breach, it is not true that there are no strike rules.”
“There is a social problem, a real problem that needs real resolution,” he said when addressing the complaint about the lack of services in the health sector, which he said did not warrant an interdict but merely needed an intervention by the court to urge the parties to honour their agreement “…there is no reason why the court shouldn’t engage the parties to meaningfully implement what they agreed on,” said Freand.
He said no worker could be in contempt because unions are not “police officers” and that in terms of the agreement government had a duty to identify the essential service employees required to report for work during the strike.
Judge Tebogo Maruping has reserved the judgment for the 6th of May and extended the temporary order to the same date.