More than 100 000 public servants will soon be smiling all the way from the bank following an announcement by President Ian Khama that they will receive a salary increase in the next few weeks.
The good news was delivered by Khama on Thursday afternoon during a tour of some villages in the North West district amongst them Komana, Nxaraga and Maun main kgotla where the president later shared a bonfire with the village elders in the evening.
A source who attended the Maun meeting told Sunday Standard that Khama made the announcement that government will increase public servants salaries in the next few weeks. The source said Khama was responding to a comment from the floor after a member of the public pleaded with the president to consider giving public servants some form of salary adjustment regardless of how small the amount might be to mitigate economic hardships.
Emphasising the need for belt tightening, due to the precarious situation the economy is in, Khama is said to have cautioned that public servants should not raise their hopes in anticipation of a windfall or anything close to the 16 percent they demanded last year. At the height of their demands for a 16 percent pay rise last year public servants embarked on an historic nationwide strike, which lasted for eight weeks bringing service delivery at government enclave to a standstill.
The economic impact of the strike, estimated in millions of pula, continue to be felt to date. In the end government awarded public servants a 3 percent increase. The President is said to have reiterated at the Thursday meeting that government has made a deliberate decision to go against advice from institutions like the World Bank to reduce the size of the public service saying they want to save jobs. The public service is estimated at approximately 109 000 employees, 80-90 000 of whom are represented by seven public sector trade unions. The Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo, confirmed in an interview Friday that he has held a consultative meeting with the President over the matter.
“Yes what he said (at the Maun kgotla) is true. We discussed the issue and agreed. But I cannot go into details that the President did not divulge,” he said.
It has since emerged that although Khama has announced the salary increase for public servants, the Public Sector Bargaining Council (PSBC) has never sat. PSBC is a forum where bargaining over employer-employee issues, including salary adjustments, takes place between representatives of the two parties. Five public sector trade unions that have been admitted to the PSBC under the conglomeration of Botswana Federation of Public Sector Trade Unions (BOFEPUSU) have reacted with shock at the announcement. BOFEPUSU Secretary for Labour, Johnson Motshwarakgole, said they are in the dark about any envisaged salary increment for public servants. He said he only learned about the announcement from union members who called their office to enquire about the issue after attending the meeting. He said announcing an increment without bargaining with the unions amounts to disrespect for legally constituted democratic structures like the PSBC on the part of the employer.
“We didn’t expect to hear about this from the street.”
Motshwarakgole said they recently held a preparatory meeting for the commencement of the Bargaining Council on July 09, 2012 where they decided on setting up an office. The first PSBC meeting proper where the agenda for bargaining will be discussed is scheduled for Monday, July 23, 2012. “We have since notified the employer that we would like the salary adjustment issue to be given priority in the agenda as soon as bargaining starts. There is no way an increase can be announced while we are waiting to bargain with the employer,” he said.
The newly appointed Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Carter Morupisi, who is the employer of all public servants, could not field questions on Friday evening saying he was on the road driving to his home (village). The Sunday Standard sought to establish if according to the employer any bargaining or negotiations have taken place with the employee representatives (trade unions) as is provided for in the new Public Service Act.
Insisting that public servants have not had a salary increment since 2007, Motshwarakgole, who also doubles as the National Organising Secretary for the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU), said, “We do not know what the 3 percent increase last year was all about. An inflationary adjustment is based on calculations which rely on real figures not just imaginary estimates and therefore we contend that the 3 percent last year was not inflationary adjustment.”
However, Motshwarakgole was reluctant to say if they will sue the employer to challenge the unilateral decision.
Government spokesperson Dr Jeff Ramsay said in an interview late Friday that he could neither confirm nor deny what the President said at the Batawana main kgotla gathering because he did not attend the said meeting. “I wouldn’t know if indeed he did or did not make the announcement. I have received a brief on the meetings but there is no mention of such an issue,” said Ramsay. However, Dr Ramsay confirmed that the president’s itinerary included addressing kgotla meetings in Maun, Nxaraga and Komana all in the Northwest district.
The four other unions in BOFEPUSU are Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Botswana Land boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAWHU) and Botswana Sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU). The other two public sector unions are Tertiary and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) and Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU).