The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions is standing on slippery ground, and faces the risk of being left in limbo early next year on account of the impending declaration of yet another federation, by its major affiliate, the Botswana Government Manual Workers Union and the Botswana Public Employees Union, which has always rejected the BFTU’ s advances.
Mbagiso Magola ,Secretary general of BOPEU, said after the Union’s annual convention, which was held in Maun recently, “The convention has unanimously resolved that BOPEU partake of the initiative to form a national public sector federation that will articulate the interests of the sector’ s employees with one voice.”
Presently, the BFTU remains the only federation in Botswana to which all other Trade Unions are affiliated. It is also internationally recognized as the rightful representative of the labour movement in the country. A recent case example is when it took up the Botswana Mine Workers Union case to the International Labour Organisation, on their behalf, protesting what was generally perceived as wrongful dismissal of the 461 De Beers employees (scores of them are reported to be dying).
The BFTU’s credentials notwithstanding, there are concerns that it is not as effective as it should be. One example of this inefficiency is the manner in which it handled the case of the 461 miners, more specifically as shown by its failure to follow up on some important issues on which the ILO’ s Committee on Freedom of Association sought clarification, concerning Case No.2500 in its 346th Report, dated June 2007. The Federation did not make any deliberate effort to motivate or endeavor to coordinate the contributions to be made by its affiliates during the consultations which are going on between Government and the public sector Unions.
Additionally, an official of one of the participating Unions said, “To make matters worse, the President of the Federation is, at the same time, the President of an affiliate Union, thus he has little time to grasp the extent of BFTU’ s handicaps and to meaningfully contribute to its otherwise feasible reinvigoration.” Against this background, there are those who argue that the emergence of another federation would sound a wake up call for the BFTU, which is currently accused of sitting on its laurels.
Johnson Motshwarakgole of the Botswana Government Manual Workers Union holds a different view. He posits that it is erroneous to counter pose the envisaged public sector federation against the BFTU because one would be representing a particular sector namely, the public service employees, whilst the other is a broad-based federation encompassing even the private sector Unions. As such, it is inconceivable that the BFTU can authoritatively confront the Government as an employer on matters that pertain exclusively to her employees.
Furthermore, in view of the impending consultative meeting of the Reference Committee that is scheduled to accept a report of the team that traveled to South Africa, Lesotho and Singapore on a benchmarking exercise, sometime this month, there is talk of a proposed National Bargaining and Consultative Council, at which the Permanent secretary to the President will be the Government’s chief negotiator. According to insiders, it is intended that the criteria for participation or representation of a Union in the envisaged national structure be a membership of 33 percent. This, it argued, would be the only legitimate passport to influence policy decision making.
Consequently, given the fact that all policy oriented issues would be addressed at national level, and also that where the situation might require the use of muscle as per Labour statutory provisions to awaken the employer’ s sensibilities, the public sector federation idea remains indispensable.
Recent statements in the media by the executive of the BFTU, in reaction to the conspicuous presence of the top brass of Government at the BOPEU conference, according to observers, “point to serious lack of depth and smack of open contest for attention from the rulers than anything else”. Article 5(3) of the ILO Convention, No. 151 on the unionization of the Public Service reads: In particular, acts which are designed to promote the establishment of public employees’ organizations under the domination of a public authority, or to support public employees’ organizations by financial or other means, with the object of placing such organizations under the control of public authority, shall be deemed to constitute acts of interference within the meaning of this article.
Following on from this, it is feared that the Government might as well exploit these symptoms of spinelessness and, in particular, reap where the BFTU failed.