The new Public Service Act, which was hastily rushed through Parliament end of 2008, and assented by President Ian Khama, along with the Media Bill, over the last Christmas holidays, is expected to be revisited during the November session of the legislature, before it can be implemented.
Fear has gripped the labour movement that Government’s decision may be intended to reverse what it perceived as ‘revolutionary’ sections in the Act.
Mbakiso Magola, Secretary General of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), has expressed disappointment at the fact that issues relating to the merging of the old Acts of the public service employing establishments, have now been divorced from the Reference Group which otherwise comprised representatives of both Trade unions and Government as the employer.
“Then there is real risk that some important achievements that unions laboured to gain through the act might come to nil, if what we were told by Permanent Secretary to the President, Mr Eric Molale, at a meeting we had with him on matters appertaining to the Act, should translate into reality.”
Molale has reportedly pointed out that certain sections of the Act have been found wanting, and are scheduled for review at the next session of Parliament. However the details remain known only to the authorities.
Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Margaret Nasha, told the Sunday Standard that it would not be possible for her to comment on matters relating to the new public service law.
“As you may be aware, I have only just moved to the new Ministry, and I am therefore constrained to say much on that,” said Nasha.
Some of the achievements Unions fear might be jeopardized are the decision to align the early retirement of employees with provisions of both the Employment law, and the Pensions and the Provident Funds Act so that it does not disadvantage the affected employees nor leave them at the mercy of powerful officials in high authority.
For example, according to existing practice based on section 15 (3) of the public service act being replaced by the one under discussion, civil servants can be retired at the age of 45 without being given any benefits.
The effect of this has been that employees so retired, are denied a substantial portion their pension and employment and benefits as provided for by the Pension and the Provident Funds Act, which states that employees qualify for their monthly pension at 50.
It is further stated by the Pension and Provident Funds Act that employees retired before reaching 50 years will instead of getting an untaxed 1/3 of their pension money like their counterparts leaving at 50, be eligible for a lesser and rather taxable ┬╝ of their money.
That is despite the fact that they could not have resigned or retired of their own volition.
Worse still, upon being retired earlier than 50, Government has no obligation to give the affected employees a hearing, nor furnish them with reasons for their early retirement, nor is any provision made for early exit package.
Recent example is cited of two Assistant Directors at DPSM and Deputy Principal of BIAC who were laid off on similar grounds. (Information reaching Sunday Standard indicates that one of them is consulting her Attorneys for possible litigation.)
The general understanding that BOPEU and other public service unions seem to have been labouring under was that the act would begin to operate on the 1st of April 2009.
On the contrary, it has now emerged that the Act if ever, might only see the light in 2010.
It was intended that the Act would kill the existing disparities inherent in conditions of services for industrial class employees and their counterparts in the permanent and pensionable category.
The establishment of the collective bargaining and consultative structures by the new Act was also seen as representing an important step in the domestication of international labour standards.
Different arguments have been advanced to explain the decision to review the act. One theory peddled is that authorities are concerned that a powerful trade union movement stands to politicize the civil service, and therefore the need to device control measures.
Another line of reasoning refers to queries expressed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in relation to discrepancies found in the countries laws early this year, thus the obligation to accordingly align the laws.
Whatever the real reasons are, the unions contend that the process is the common business of the social partners rather than the employer’s alone.
In addition, BOPEU officials have said that they find it is surprising that the law could be reviewed before it even started operating, especially so considering that the act was hastily pushed through Parliament for approval and alongside with the Media Bill assented by the President over the public holidays.