National Food Research Technology Centre says that its IT officers, records clerks, personal assistants and secretaries cannot join the Trainers and Allied Workers Union because they have access to privileged information which they may be tempted to leak to the union.
On account of the nature of their job, managers cannot become union members themselves but NFTRC management has gone farther to argue that support staff are also not eligible for union membership as they are neither trainers nor allied workers. This group includes gardeners, cleaners and drivers.
NFTRC’s managing director, Dr. Charity Kerapeletswe-Kruger, has written TAWU to say that it does not meet the threshold necessary for recognition. TAWU says that the disqualification of a large number of employees is wholly designed to frustrate its plans to unionise the Centre’s staff.
Some five months after the Gaborone Industrial Court ordered the Commissioner of Labour to facilitate a process to determine the suitability of TAWU to undertake union activity at NFTRC, this is the rut in which the two parties find themselves stuck in: a lot of motion but no movement. The court ordered the Commissioner to appoint a mediator to determine whether TAWU’s membership at NFTRC meets the statutory threshold of one-third of staff members eligible for membership. If the result came back positive, NFTRC was to grant TAWU recognition within seven days of such determination being made. The starting point was to determine who qualifies for membership and it is here that there is a lot of disagreement between the two parties.
TAWU’s contention is that its constitution has been misinterpreted and has attempted to demonstrate how. The union says that as used in its constitution, “support staff” refers to all allied workers who directly or indirectly facilitate or support training activities and processes. Viewed in this light, all employee groups that NFTRC disqualify would qualify. NFTRC argues that there is no proof of the fact that any of its employees is a TAWU member and that “only a ballot” can authoritatively determine who the eligible staff members are. If NFTRC’s disaggregation is to be sued for this process, TAWU would fall way short of the threshold.
In all likelihood, the matter will end up back in court. Kepaletswe-Kruger has raised concern about the “interference” of a certain Sylvester Komoki in the current process, warning that his “continued interference would render proceedings reviewable.”
TAWU, which denies any such interference, has hinted at the possibility of management’s legal advisor having made input in the letter.
“If that be the case, it would be most disappointing that the input of legal advice is to “put a spanner in the works” ÔÇô to ensure that the dispute becomes complicated and irresolvable, rather than to assist the process,” says a letter signed TAWU’s vice president, Edward Tswaipe.
The two sides have also failed to agree on the nature of the process they are currently engaged in. TAWU’s understanding is that it is mediation but Kepaletswe-Kruger contends it is actually arbitration. The language she uses in the letter is legalistic; she cites court cases to buttress her arguments and makes plain the fact she sought legal advice. Based on her convictions about the legal nature of the process matter, Kepaletswe-Krugar informs TAWU that NFTRC wants to be allowed legal representation.
On the other hand, TAWU says that the Industrial Court judgment ordered mediation and not arbitration.
“The issue of arbitration is the creation of management’s innovative adventurism. Our position is that such a position would substantially vary the orders of the court,” Tswaipe counters.