Saturday, January 16, 2021

Lippe’s suspension divides BTC union

The recent suspension of the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Thapelo Lippe, has created major rifts within the Botswana Telecommunications Union. Reports reaching Sunday Standard indicate that some members of the BTC union have taken offense with management’s decision to engage the board over Lippe’s future instead of dealing with bread and butter issues that affect their future at BTC.

Media reports indicate BOTEU is due to meet BTC Board Chairman Len Makwinja on Monday after demanding to be given an update on the Lippe issue.

Some union members, however, feel that BOTEU leadership is only looking to draw attention from their glaring failure to negotiate meaningfully on behalf of their members during the restructuring exercise, and is now poking its nose into matters in which they have no control.

“Why demand an update when the report of investigations into BTC operations is due? What do they hope to achieve, as they were not part of the investigations? They are only looking to intimidate the board,” they said.
They accuse BOTEU of picking fights and only dirtying their hands in matters in which they have an interest.

Sunday Standard can reveal that in September 2009, BOTEU wrote a letter castigating Lippe for his inappropriate and discourteous language when addressing employees.

”We are concerned by your consistent use of inappropriate language, which has created a communication barrier within the corporation and a lot of fear and anger. BTC employees deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” read the letter.

They also raised concern with the BTC management’s flagrant firing of employees. Indications are that the wanton dismissals have come back to haunt the BTC, as some of the employees who were dismissed have sought relief at the courts of law, while some have since been paid millions from the corporation’s coffers.

The union also raised concern with management’s continued recruitment of new employees in the face of a restructuring exercise.
“While we are still awaiting the results of the job evaluation, there seems to be an influx of recruitment even for positions that are not in the approved organizational structure. One can only anticipate more retrenchments once the results of the job evaluation are released,” read the letter.

The union also castigated management for failing to consult with them in the restructuring exercise, as per section 48 of the Trade Unions and Employers Organizations Act. The union, for example, demanded that they be given the terms of reference of the restructuring exercise.

“The union did not have a scope of work within which the consultant was meant to operate, such that they could not anticipate the results and make any recommendations,” they said.

The insiders revealed that they received a non committal response from BTC management, and were still looking to further engage them through their attorneys when Lippe was suspended.
In the end, the restructuring exercise was completed and implemented on January 1 2010.

However, there were grumbles that the union had started sleeping with the enemy, as they abandoned their initial demands to be actively involved in the restructuring exercise, rather choosing to accept the recommendations without putting up a fight.

A January staff meeting hosted by the General Manager Corporate Affairs revealed that parliament was looking to institute a commission of inquiry into BTC operations. It was at that meeting that BTC management also reportedly quipped that it was surprising that BOTEU had accepted the restructuring recommendations without making counter proposals.

However, BTC employees are reportedly in the dark about the restructuring exercise. Apart from the fact that it was instituted without the input of the union, the specific results of the job evaluation excursive were not released to the employees.

“Such an exercise is meant for employees to benchmark with their colleagues, even those from competing corporations. How then do we measure our performance if we are not furnished with the results of our evaluation?” asked a BTC employee.
BTC employees are reportedly looking for answers, and the union is looking the other way, as they have already put pen to paper.

A joint communiqu├® released by both union and management, signed in December 17th last year, stated that the parties remain committed to working jointly whenever grievances and concerns arise in the course of the implementation.

“The union seems to be anticipating problems in the implementation of the revised benefits and the P3 salary structure. It is also surprising that, despite the fact that they had earlier raised concerns that they were not duly consulted during the evaluation exercise, the union went on to meekly accept the results of the exercise, even when they were flawed in that they did not have any specific results,” said the BTC employees.

They also state that the agreement was ambiguous in that it did not state the exact agreement that the union and management had made with regards to the outcome of the evaluation exercise.
Staff morale is said to be at an all time low at BTC as no one is sure of what the future holds for them.

The employees say that they were therefore surprised when BOTEU demanded to see the board over Lippe’s fate. The findings of investigations into the goings on at BTC, which were instituted after Lippe was suspended, were due to be released on Friday.

Many feel that the union’s demand to meet the board is just a smokescreen meant to divert attention from their mishaps, and also intimidate the board.

“We must remember that we have unfinished business with management, as referred to in the September 2009 letter that we wrote. We are also unhappy with the way the restructuring exercise was conducted. But our union continues to ignore these glaring mishaps and rather demands to see the board over Lippe’s future. What purpose will that serve?” they asked.

They further accused the union of being two-faced and picking fights that only the leadership has an interest in.

“The union was mum when people were being retrenched left right and centre,” they said.

For his part, BOTEU President, Nathaniel Kebalefetse, said that he was not aware of any grumbles of discontent from within his union. He however said that he could not divulge any further information on the matter.

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