Monday, September 28, 2020

Public Service Unions score few victories as Manual Workers lose

When representatives of the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), and the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government Manual and General Workers Union (NAL&CGMGWU), left their meeting place with the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Daniel Kwelagobe, they had little to celebrate despite a few small victories, because there was more to divide them than to bring them together.

The major rift which might take a long time to heal over was caused by the Government’s rejection of the proposal which was included in the salaries review commission as a recommendation that industrial class employees be allowed the benefit of GEMVAS as part of their working conditions. Government turned down the Manual Workers request to revisit this recommendation on the basis that it would increase its contingency liability under the scheme.
Part of their proposal was to be further allowed to use the scheme to purchase farm vehicles.

Johnson Motswarakgole, of the Manual Workers’ Union said, “Discussions are continuing to determine the best way to deal with the issue.” According to Motshwarakgole the trouble is that the current disparities in incomes resulting from re-grading of jobs for local vis-a vis similar jobs in Central Government, the differentials in salaries of industrial class employees and permanent and pension able employees basing on their daily rates leave a lot to be desired.

The other obstacle to consideration for GEMVAS may have been the fact that over and above their meager wages to allow for an acceptable take-home after all loan repayments, manual workers take gratuity after every five years which goes counter to what most financial institutions would consider secure. “It is on the basis of this that we did present these issues of correction of disparities to Government, and we maintain that they will certainly be given the attention they deserve.”

Motshwarakgole’s statements and Kwelagobe’s rejection of the industrial class employees’ access to GEMVAS notwithstanding, Sunday Standard has authoritatively established that Government, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, offered at least four Unions which include the Manual Workers Union, the opportunity to take control of the running of the scheme.

“After Government announced its intentions in 2006 to outsource the Scheme as part of the broad public sector reforms of hiving off non-core activities to the private sector, with a view to empowering citizens and improving service delivery, Trade unions approached the Ministry expressing interest to take over the administration of GEMVAS on behalf of Government, through a separate company formed by them,” Tumelo Serwalo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning said in response to a questionnaire by the Sunday Standard.
Additionally, Serwalo said that the Unions have since formed a company comprising four shareholders namely: Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), Botswana Manual Workers Union Botswana Teachers Union and Botswana Secondary Teachers Union.

According to Serwalo, Government felt that the first opportunity be provided to the employee unions which are made up of Government employees.

“The Ministry, in consultation with the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board, agreed to look at their management proposal.”

However, the manual workers can find solace in the fact that they have now been granted acting allowance, and their leave travel concession had been restored. An official of the manual workers said, “We are happy, only that there is nothing new about it.”

GEMVAS is a condition of service that Government is providing for its employees to finance motor vehicle and residential loans. Government guarantees up to 80% of the debt outstanding on the loan of the employee at any time, and the balance of 20% is the Bank’s financing risk of the debt due by the employee.

When contacted for comment, Andrew Motsamai, President of BOPEU who has been appointed by the affected Unions as the Company’s spokesman, said, “I’d rather we discuss the matter some weeks later, since I feel its still premature.” Neither would Motshwarakgole be spurred into exchanging on the issue.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.