Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Lebang arbitrating BR retrenchment dispute

Following an arbitration process that was concluded two weeks ago, Botswana Railways may be getting closer to the termination of its long-drawn-out restructuring exercise.
For as long as this process has lasted, BR and the Botswana Railways Amalgamated Workers Union have been diametrically opposed on how it should be conducted. Mediation could not get the two parties on the same page and the matter was referred for arbitration. The arbitration is being conducted by Tembo Lebang who has extensive experience in matters of this nature. He was Commissioner of Labour in the early 1990s and later worked for the Botswana National Productivity Centre as Executive Director. Last year, he was appointed mediator when the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions and the Directorate on Public Service Management deadlocked over salary increment negotiations. In the current matter, BR wants to lay off 147 employees but BRAWU is far from happy with the terminal package that the former is offering. On September 16, both sides participated in a hearing and are now awaiting Lebang’s decision (“award” as it is technically called) which they would be expected to comply with.
The process has been dragging on for a close to a year now after BRAWU reversed it through a court order. The union’s complaint was that it had not been consulted and Justice Isaac Bahuma of the Gaborone Industrial Court determined that to be the case and directed that BR management restart and conduct negotiations the right way.
Aside from the negotiations themselves, the process has been attended by its own set of side shows at different stages. In apparent test-driving of a Court of Appeal judgment that discriminates between union and non-union members, BR management offered the latter an improved package at the exclusion of the former. The judgement in question says that that trade unions have “no mandate to negotiate on behalf of non-unionised employees.” Last month, a BRAWU member – a former office holder – questioned the legitimacy of the leadership, arguing in a letter he circulated that its term of office had expired. Subsequently, there was a delegate conference which renewed the mandate of all but one office holder.
As the process lurches back and forth, both the employer and employees continue to suffer great inconvenience. BR is paying salaries of employees it had planned to part ways with in December last year. On the other hand, employees are unable to get bank loans because of the impending retrenchment.

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