The Department of Labour and Social Security office in Gaborone had to postpone an industrial dispute hearing between Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and former retrenched employees because the former’s head could not produce work and residence permits.
The incident happened last Tuesday as mediation process was about to begin in a matter in which the former employees are challenging the school’s decision to retrench them. The former employees were represented by the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) officials while Limkokwing was represented by a team led by its Pro Vice Chancellor, Cedric Bell, who is based at the London campus. Acting on a hunch, TAWU representatives asked that Bell produce his permits as required by law because “we wanted to be absolutely certain that we were dealing with someone who had legal authority to represent the university.” Bell couldn’t produce both permits, in the process bringing proceedings to a grounding halt. The meeting finally broke up when the Limkokwing team indicated that it wanted to consult with the university’s owner, Lim Kok Wing, as well as its legal advisors. The mediation did go ahead on Friday, minus Bell, who was said to be in the process of acquiring the documents that he couldn’t produce three days earlier.
With 12 campuses, Limkokwing moves its staff around with what is not always lawful ease. Four years ago when staff at the Lesotho campus went on strike over unfavourable conditions of service, management responded by dispatching a team from Botswana to fill in as scab labour. Work permits were not obtained for this cross-border assignment. By one account, the striking Basotho lecturers turned on the Botswana scab labourers, forcing them to flee and take refuge in a nearby church. Last month, as the university reopened, staff at the Swaziland campus also went on strike for the same reason. The Swaziland Union of Non-Academic Staff for Higher Institutions (SUNASHI) wrote TAWU to warn again the dispatch of scab labour from Botswana.
“Your coming to Swaziland might therefore be used to defeat the legitimate display of worker power of the planned strike. Secondly, it might constitute an illegal entry into Swaziland to work when you have no legal status to work in this jurisdiction. Thirdly, it might contribute to chaos and violence that may take place upon the striking workers learning about your presence on the Swaziland campus,” reads a letter from SUNASHI’s Secretary General, Fundizwi Sikhondze.
In a separate but related endeavour, SUNASHI alerted the Swaziland Commissioner of Labour about plans to import scab labour from not just Botswana but Lesotho as well.
“If this were to happen as alleged, it would not only violate the Industrial Act in that the employer would be employing scab labour in the process risking an industrial action turning into chaos but it would also violate the Swaziland immigration laws. We are therefore calling upon your office to engage in serious on-the-ground inspection to ensure that such acts do not happen as they might lead to an uncontrollable situation on campus,” Sikhondze’s letter to the Commissioner of Labour reads.