Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Politics must be divorced from salary negotiations

A rather significant but generally muted factor regarding issues of salaries involving public service workers is that without continuous and fair implementation of reformations the wage disparity widens further and could potentially increase the risk of dampening morale hence exacerbating the widely reported low performance level. 

A report on public service pay reform titled “Tactics sequencing and politics in developing countries: lessons from sub-Saharan Africa shows the increasing trend of the salary differentials between 1990 and 2002. 

In 1990 the ratio between the minimum and highest salary was calculated at 15:1, a difference of P17 472 between the two figures. By 2002 the ratio had stretched to 39:1 with a difference of P339 324 between the two figures. The report cites that over that 12-year period there were 12 salary increases and four salary review commissions. 

In fact in 1998 a Presidential Commission on Review of Public Service Salaries and Conditions of Service recommended a salary increase of 25 percent making it the highest across the board pay rise in that period. 

“Each employee was given 25 percent salary increase out of which 15 percent was compensation for inflation and 10 percent for competitiveness of public service salaries against private sector salaries and regional markets,” the report says. 

Following the 12-year period to date there is an absence of documentation regarding pay decisions but what stands out from this current period is the restrained growth of incomes. More specifically across the board pay rise has not been done in the past six years. This restrained income growth validates the argument on salary differential as it is suggestive that in the absence of pay increases and reforms the disparity remains to be addressed.      

In addition the report contains damning statements which seem to support the rationale of BOFEPUSU, which represents the public sector trade union, that government undermines its role on matters of pay decisions. 

According to the report the pressure on government to increase pay is weak in Botswana in comparison to other African countries. “The suppression of these groups (trade unions, civil society groups, and mass media) has given enough room for the ruling coalition to use technical justification in public service pay reform to accomplish its political goals,” says. 

It further cites that that the design and choice of a pay structure in Botswana is more political than economic or technical. Perhaps the statements cited in the report would not hold water if a fair and transparent relationship existed between government and trade unions. 

As evidenced by last week’s turn of events on a court’s ruling over the contentious pay negotiations matter between the two parties that has dragged since the infamous 2011 strike, such a relationship does not exist. Last week BOFEPUSU’s feat overruled government’s upper hand in which a ruling by Justice Tshepo Motswagole ordered the reversal of government’s decision to increase salaries of non-unionised workers leaving their unionised counterparts in the lurch. 

BOFEPUSU had responded to government with derision asserting its position that it will stand for its role in arriving at a pay decision. The 2011 strike caused an increasing strain to the relationship between government and trade unions, but it did not produce the intended result proven by the lack of across the board pay increase. This outcome was not particularly new as the report notes that a strike involving thousands of industrial workers in 1991 failed in the same way. 

“After a week of strike the government forced the strikers back with no salary increase by threatening them of losing jobs and benefits,” it cites. 

The disparity of salaries cannot be left on the onus of politics because its impact has both economic and social implications. The subject is particularly important in the case of Botswana because reports show that the small economy has an alarming difference of incomes between the elite and poor. This income gap could potentially worsen the workers’ performance level which is especially dangerous in Botswana as the economy is largely dependent on government led activities.

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