The Botswana Telecommunications Corporation was ordered on Friday 29, 2008 to suspend, with immediate effect, the restructuring and retrenchment exercises which had been ongoing for the past several months, pending final determination of the legality or otherwise of the entire exercise. It was also ruled that BTC shall not terminate the employment contracts of those members of BOTEU who would have stated in writing that they wish to take advantage of the Court order.
This followed an urgent application by the Union to seek redress from the Court after failing to reach agreement with Management on the admissibility of the exercise. Upon hearing Attorney Duma Boko for the applicant, BOTEU, and Attorney Vergeer (with Makati-Mpho) for the respondent (BTC) before Justice Dow, BOTEU’s interdict was “adjudged sufficiently urgent to require the abridgement of the normal time limits”.
Head of Communications and Public Relations at BTC, James Molosankwe, had said in response to a questionnaire from The Sunday Standard, that the envisaged effective date for the close of the retrenchment exercise and for re-deployment of those who would be remaining or recruited by the Corporation, was February 29, 2008.
The High Court held that although BOTEU failed to either disclose the decision-making process by which its members are bound by its decision to launch the proceedings, nor to demonstrate that its decision to launch the proceedings was authorized by each and every one of its members, it does not necessarily follow that all of its members would be bound by the Court order. Nonetheless, it was ordered that those of its members wishing to take shelter under BOTEU’s umbrella should state so in writing to their employer, BTC “no later than the close of business on the 7th March 2008.
Meantime, Justice Dow ordered that BTC should on the 2nd April 2008, show cause as to why they should not be directed to furnish BOTEU with the total number of people in its employ, the categories of persons and the identities of the persons who may be affected by the restructuring exercise and the target it intends to retain as well as the nature of the work to be done by those retained.
Part of the details required to be passed to BOTEU include the dates of engagement of all employees who may be affected by the retrenchment exercise; the names of the members of BOTEU who have applied for voluntary exit packages and the nature of the work done by such persons, their date of engagement and the date of engagement of others who, “but for their chosen acceptance of the voluntary retrenchment package would have been chosen in their stead.”
“Throughout this process, we have always maintained that any thing concerning the membership of the Union and the BTC workforce in general must be seen to be done in the open,” said Lyndoll Madisa, Secretary-General of BOTEU. “Now we are vindicated”.
In addition, Madisa said the other issue that has always been problematic was that of the exact nature of the exercise and the dividing lines between the retrenchment exercise and the privatization. She said there has never explicitly been introduced to them.
“We have always been kept in the dark and Management has successfully evaded all efforts at genuine and constructive engagement,” she said. “One of their best strategies was to deny us information.”
According to inside sources, most of BTC employees had invested much hope in the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s intervention, late last year when she successfully persuaded the Union to return back to the negotiating table. One Union official, who did not want her identity divulged, said, “Its hard to understand such a complete about turn by the one who initially, told us that she was acting as a parent, and now that she is a minister, she is nowhere near.”
Against this background, the Court has also challenged BTC to show cause as to why they should not be directed to furnish BOTEU with copies of the human resources audit and utilization report done internally by BTC; the IDI report which dealt with or made reference to the staffing skills gap as well as overstaffing; and the human resources audit and utilization report prepared by Delloite and Touche, which was a sequel to the internal one on the same topic.
The BTC is also expected to stand its ground and say why it should not be further ordered to submit the McKinsey report, which is commonly referred to as the privatization report by the CEO of the BTC both in Union /Management consultative meetings and in staff public address. Additionally, BTC is asked to say why they should not be liable for the costs of the legal battle that would ensue.
When contacted for comment on the likely implications of the High Court Order, in relation to the initial timeliness for the restructuring exercise, Molosankwe had this to say, “We have not yet seen the order so there is not much that we can say. However, there is no way we can disrespect the order, since it’s a lawful statement.”
The parties have been given up to 28 March to file answering papers and heads of arguments. The final arguments will be heard on the 2nd April 2008.