In order to ensure that labour worked like clockwork, the Soviet Union ensured that organised labour was part of the official establishment and that union membership was universal and mandatory. In such arrangement, a factory manager could also double as the shop steward.
What happened in the Soviet Union many, many years ago is now happening in Gaborone in 2017. Against an astounding amount of documentary evidence, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology maintains that its collective labour agreement with the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) has elapsed. Upon initiating a retrenchment exercise in December last year, Limkokwing held a consultative meeting not with TAWU but directly with staff members. The union had tried to query management’s decision but the explanation was that the CLA between the two parties had expired three years ago.
“There is therefore no longer any Collective Labour Agreement in force and there cannot be a meeting of JNCC in the absence of any Collective Labour Agreement,” reads a January 13, 2016 letter from Limkokwing that doesn’t state the position of the signee. While a Department of Labour and Social Security officer who mediated in the matter ruled in TAWU’s favour, Limkokwing managers are digging their heels in and the matter has gone for arbitration.
The end result has been that Limkokwing employees don’t have a trade union. Sunday Standard sought to find out what mechanism Limkokwing has put in place to deal with staff welfare issues like salary increment that would ordinarily be dealt with through a union.
The response from the varsity’s spokesperson, Mercy Thebe, might as well have been delivered in Russian: “The University has an established Human Resources Department which addresses conditions of service for all employees. The institution has always been dealing with all welfare issues through Human Resources and other relevant structures.”
Limkokwing relations with TAWU have always been unusually confrontational and the union says that members were purposefully purged in the last retrenchment. Of the parade of people who uniformly served short stints as Limkokwing vice president before leaving in disgruntlement, Edward Kemsley, is credited with allowing TAWU to operate freely. The CLA was actually developed during his stewardship of the varsity. Most of these former vice presidents were well-respected educationists from government institutions of higher learning. Kemsley was the former principal of the Botswana College of Agriculture (renamed the Botswana University of Agricultural and Natural Resources) where he would doubtless have gained experience of dealing with unions in a democratic dispensation.