April 11 2010: Public sector trade unions have threatened to bring government operations to a standstill should disciplinary action be taken against Botswana Landboards and Local Authorities Workers Union (BLLAWU) president, Pelotshewu Baeng, for addressing the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) Youth League congress.
This comes after Baeng defied an order from government not to honour an invitation to address a BCPYL congress in Francistown over the weekend.
On April 1, the Establishment Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, Peter Mongwaketse, wrote to Baeng cautioning him that he would be contravening General Orders 36.1, read with 36.2, which bar public officers from speaking at political gatherings.
“I direct you to withdraw and refrain from participating at the said event,” read the letter.
But a defiant Baeng went ahead and addressed the BCPYL congress, at which he explained that he was speaking not as a public servant, but as a representative of Botswana’s labour movement.
“It should be clear to those shivering that I stand here today not as a member of any political party, nor as an employee under General Orders, but as the President of BLLAWU and on behalf of labour movement in Botswana. In that capacity, I am recognized by the Constitution of the union, the Trade Unions and Employers Act, and the International Labour Organizations stipulations,” he said.
While it remains to be seen what action government will take against Baeng for his defiance, the public sector unions have warned that they will not tolerate any repressive action against him.
BLLAWU, Botswana Public Employees Union, Botswana Teachers Union, Botswana Secondary Teachers Union, and the Manual Workers Union, have issued a stern warning that they will cripple government operations if any action is taken against Baeng.
In an interview with Sunday Standard last week, at which BOPEU president Andrew Motsamai and General Secretary Topius Marenga were present, the unions said that Baeng had gone to address the BCPYL as a representative of the public sector unions.
“We endorse Baeng’s actions and the statements that he made at the BCPYL congress. He went there as a trade unionist. Should anything happen to him, we will bring this country to a stand still for a period that will be determined by us. An injury to Baeng is an injury to all of us,” said Motsamai.
He also accused government of applying double standards as she remained mum when trade unions engaged the labour subcommittee of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.
“On two occasions we were wined and dined by the ruling BDP at the pavilion, where we exchanged ideas on what we expect of each other and how we can harmonies relations. The employer remained mum. But they only speak out when we engage with the opposition. Government will not intimidate our representations,” he said.