Sunday, September 27, 2020

Manual Workers Union takes Government to Court over recognition of BOGOWU

The Government and the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union, known as Manual Workers Union (MWU), and the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) have fallen out following the latter’s decision to grant recognition to the break away Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU).

This became apparent at the end of the week following a meeting of the Reference Committee comprising representatives of recognized trade unions and some officials representing Government as the employer on September 8th, 2008, where the two unions sat side by side with the employer at equal distance.

MWU Organizing Secretary, Johnson Motswarakgole, told the Sunday Standard that,” we find it out of order that DPSM chose to give them the recognition in spite of the fact that their membership falls far short of the required threshold.” Besides, Motshwarakgole says that they should have been consulted.

A letter dated September 17, 2008 from DPSM and subsequent to that another of September 24, 2008 advised BOGOWU of the employer’s decision to recognize them, “as a collective bargaining agent for its membership base,” and further granted access to the check-off facility in order to process their membership subscription fees.
By way of the second letter, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning was also informed of the development.

However, Motshwarakgole only learnt of the new status accorded to their disgruntled dissidents when DPSM representatives, announced at the meeting that both BOGOWU and the Tertiary Trainers and Allied Workers Union(TAWU) have now been recognized as, “collective bargaining agents” for their membership bases.
For the fact that the meeting had an unrelated agenda, Motshwarakgole could not vent out his shock at the news.

“But believe me we will get that recognition reversed by the courts,” he stated authoritatively. He added that on account of figures compiled by Government it is very clear that BOGOWU is riding on ghost numbers.
Figures commissioned by DPSM indicate that the total number of Industrial class employees in Government’s workforce range between 26000 and 28000. The MWU submit that their membership base stands at 24000. It follows from this that the new union needed 9000 members to attain the threshold. Herein seems to be the gist of the impending legal battle.

Upon hearing of plans by their rivals to embark on legal action, Phillip Kaboda, Secretary General of BOGOWU said that that as far as they are aware DPSM is not accountable to other unions for its decisions on who to recognize.
In addition, Kaboda advised the Sunday Standard to find out from DPSM that they have with them (DPSM) a considerable number of cases concerning BOGOWU members who had their subscriptions deducted against their consent in favour of the MWU since their resignation could not be facilitated.

Although Matome said that she is not aware of any such cases before his office, Motshwarakgole conceded that there have been such instances but
Regarding the number of his union’s membership he maintained that it stood at more than 9585. He said they are free to go to court, adding that their rivals shock is understandable since they may already be pondering on the future import of the new developments.
“We aim to reintroduce true unionism, and expose the dangers of business unionism which has removed unions from their core function,” stated Kaboda in an interview with the Sunday Standard. He said that “we fully appreciate the implications of our decision,” citing a case which led to one of their number being incarcerated in jail.

For her part, the DPSM Acting Director Pearl Matome held that they were guided by the law, and that it is not for the Directorate to address the differences between the two unions.
In the letter authored by the DPSM Director, Molebedi Oagile, it is indicated thus, “Pursuant to Section 32 of the Trade Disputes Act, 2003 read with Section 48 of Trade Unions and Employers Organizations Act, Cap 48:01, I am pleased to grant recognition to Botswana Government Workers Union…”
On whether she is confident that the criteria they applied in considering the applications for recognition was valid, Matome pointed out that she has so far found no cause to doubt the “Criteria prescribed by the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs”.

TAWU could not be spared from Motshwarakgole’s venom.
He wandered on what basis such a numerically tiny union like TAWU with a membership of 300 would be granted Recognition, despite it’s having members scattered across various sectors.

“It baffles the mind to try to grasp some of the legal opinions that seem to inform DPSM in arriving at these kinds of decisions,” said the MWU official. Whilst we respect the right of other sectoral groups to bargain on behalf of their members it’s difficult to understand the criteria employed in enlisting some of these unions.
Another argument raised by MWU is that according to the collective bargaining agreement between them and Government no union intending to represent industrial class employees would be granted recognition. He however hastened to point out that that is will not form the key element of the court case they are preparing to lodge against BOGOWU.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.