Botswana nurses have formed their own union and its president, Fondondo Phillip, is already spitting fire about how this group of health professionals was short-changed in last year’s strike by unionised civil servants.
“We feel the interest of the majority took precedence over that of the nurses. At the end, nurses became more of casualties than beneficiaries. The professional body [the Nurses Association of Botswana) was overlooked and undermined though it could have given sound advice about the strike – like nurses’ strike policy,” Phillip says.
The Botswana Nurses Union (as the Union is called) will be launched at its inaugural Annual General Assembly on October 26 this year in Francistown. The same meeting will dissolve the NAB which has been in existence since 1968. Phillip says that nurses feel that the latter has been overtaken by events.
“The Association does not have a strong voice when addressing nurses’ matters because it can only lobby and advocate without anything binding, whereas the Union has more powers and can go to an extent of bargaining for its members with legally binding agreements between it and employers. As you might be aware, nurses have so many unresolved issues with the employer which date back so many years. Regionally and internationally, nurses associations are unionising as a way of gaining more power to bargain for their members,” says Phillip, adding that only nurses are eligible for membership.
Explaining the latter condition, Phillip said that the BONU is affiliated to regional and international nursing organisations “because we do not want lose professional identity.”
However, BONU comes into being at a time that the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), which organised last year’s strike, is fighting a legal battle to have workers who were fired – some of them nurses, reinstated. It also comes into an order in which the battle for members among public sector unions is the most intense it has ever been and will necessarily have to recruit its own members from already existing unions, including BOFEPUSU group members.
Phillip says that he cannot be sure whether the formation of his union could sour relations with BOFEPUSU and jeopardise the process of having fired nurses reinstated. He adds though that BONU is prepared to work with any organisation with which it can benefit from.
“Nurses have been members of the general unions (BLLAHWU, BOPEU, Mine Workers Union, UBASSU and TAWU) and the professional association – NAB – for a long time so we do not see where the conflict, if any, can emanate from,” he says, referring to the Botswana Land Board, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union, Botswana Public Employees Union, University of Botswana Academic and Senior Support Staff Union and the Trainers and Allied Workers Union.
Phillip says once up and running, BONU’s first order of business will include nurses’ conditions of service advocacy, laws governing the profession, ethical consideration education to members as well as rigorous membership recruitment and retaining strategies.
Interestingly enough, the Union is established at a time that the government has signaled intent to amend the Public Service Act. Some unionists believe a redone version of that legislation would make it extremely difficult for essential services employees like nurses to go on strike.