Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Registrar of Trade Unions blunders again

The tussle in which two rival unions, the National Amalgamated local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU) and the Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU), are contesting for the favour of authorities at the Office of the President, has taken an ugly twist as the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs got roped in, to “review” the rules of the game.
This has resulted in both unions being ordered to apply for permission to use the words “National” and “Government” in their names, respectively.

The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) Secretary General, Gadzani Mhosha, has described the decision as regrettable, and that it is becoming apparent that “either there is some ulterior agenda that Government is pursuing or someone out there is simply failing in their duty to the labour movement as well as to the general public that this office is expected to serve with honour.”

A copy of correspondence written early this month, and addressed to the NALCGPWU by Lesego Pule, the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers Organization, reads, “We have noted from first schedule of the Protected Names Act that the name “National” is a protected name.”
It is further stated that the use of protected names is prohibited except with the written permission of the President.

Section 4(1) is cited by Pule: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any written law, save under the authority of a written permit issued by the President, no business, cooperative or other society, trade union, club or other association of persons shall be registered by or use for its own purposes, any protected name or names of which any protected names form a part.”

BOGOWU, on the other hand, first got notice of the Registrar’s intent to dispatch such a letter through their mother body, BFTU. This was confirmed by Mhosha.
“It would be probably unfair to speculate on the reasons why the Registrar chose to deal with us rather than directly with our affiliate.”

In case one would have thought that it is a matter of procedure, the response from Mbakiso Magola, Secretary General of the new federation, of which NALCGPWU is a member, suggests otherwise. He said, “There would not be any point in the Registrar talking to us about an issue that directly affects our affiliate.”

However, the Secretary General of BOGOWU, Phillip Kaboda, acknowledged receiving a similar letter from the Registrar, to the effect that their use of the word “Government”, as part of their name, requires sanctioning by the President as per the Protected Names’ provisions.

In addition to mention of Section 4(1) on the Restriction of Use of Protected Names, one feature that is common to both letters is that the unions are cautioned that any breach of the ‘above section is a criminal offence’. To this end Pule was categorical.
“We put it to you to produce the written permission from the President, to apply for one or to rectify the issue of using a protected name somehow.”

In response to the Registrar, NALCGPWU conceded, “That our Union has been using the names “National” and “Government” for a very long time and the same names are protected under the Protected Names Act.”
Furthermore, the response proceeds: “Kindly be advised that our Union was registered prior to the coming into operation of the Act.”

Reference is made to the Union’s history to bring home the point that it should not be affected by the Act. It was indicated that the Union was registered in 1969, having been formed in 1963, whereas the Protected Names Act came into operation on the “23rd November 1972.”

Although officials of NALCGPWU maintain that there is no basis for anticipation of legal wrangling, they contended that when the Act says in section 4(1) that: “No….trade union….shall be registered by…. Any protected name…..” it means that that should not happen as from the 3rd November 1972.

The Union is of the view that if the Act intended to prohibit the use of the names even by already existing entities, “It would have stated so in clean language, especially as the same is a criminal offence.”

In spite of the contents of NALCGPWU’s reply, in addition to acknowledging that they also have been served with a similar letter, BOGOWU’s Kaboda argued that the fact that the office of the Registrar has long had all the time to “correct that” if, by any chance, it constitutes an anomaly, makes one wonder what has suddenly prompted the action.

Highlighting the extent of BOGOWU’s worry about the “application for permission” issue, Kaboda said, “Given that we are at this very juncture under pressure from officers at Industrial Class Division of the DPSM, to submit certain unqualified details which we are told are demanded by the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Daniel Kwelagobe, it seems to us that this is merely part of a calculated strategy to mollify our union.”

It is further alleged that senior officials at Ministry of LHA had received nocturnal calls from a highly placed Government Minister who sought to coerce them to decline the registration of BOGOWU three years ago, without offering any sound reasons. The bid failed as the Minister was advised to focus on his defined parameters.

To compound matters, “We have recently met his deputy, Vice President Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe to convey our concerns and that we view this unfolding scenario as a continuation of that chicanery,” said Kaboda.

Even though the NALCGRWU had filed an objection to BOGOWU’s registration at the time, Johnson Motshwarakgole, National Organizing Secretary of the former, pointed out that the name has never been part of their basis for objection. “Our only query then was that BOGOWU officials had outstanding issues to settle with us.”

According to Mhosha, another seemingly obscure dimension to this development is the fact that a considerable number of members of Management in Government are at the same time members of the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) which is an important ally of the NALCGPWU as well as the favourite of government, especially in respect of the now controversial Botswana Public Sector federation (BOFEPUSU).

One striking element about the whole fracas is that it comes hardly a few months after it emerged that the registration of the new federation was fraught with irregularities, the position of which, reliable sources have intimated, was categorically pronounced by the office of the Attorney General.

The Sunday Standard is also reliably informed that the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs decided that they would be better off silent than expose Government to further embarrassment by reversing the BOFEPUSU “mistake”.

Efforts to get the Ministry’s comment on the Protected Names issue were not successful.

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