Friday, September 25, 2020

Row over legality of new workers’ federation rages on

The controversial newly registered Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) continues to enjoy rights and privileges of a lawful organization despite advice given to the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers’ Organization by the Attorney General, that the Federation has been irregularly listed and that it must be de-registered.

Representation in the Minimum Wages Advisory Board and the Labour Advisory Board, which are considered tripartite structures providing for participation of social partners, which include the labour movement, BOCCIM and Government, is one of the cited indicators of Government’s recognition of the new federation despite laws providing otherwise.

Concern has been raised that inaction on the matter by the authorities, could have serious boomerang effects on the Government’s image and cast aspersions on her professed commitment to genuine unionization of the public service.

In spite of this, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA), Letlhogonolo Siele, has intimated that his Ministry was still discussing the registration of the federation with the concerned trade unions.

“I believe it’s a good thing for the civil servants to want to unite and speak with one voice; it’s an initiative I personally shared when I was President of the Botswana Civil Servants Association, now Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU),” said Siele. “However, what we are trying to do is to encourage these two Unions to go and comply with outstanding elements of the registration process.”

According to Siele, the unions, namely BOPEU and the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU), otherwise known as Mine Workers Union, have submitted that the deregistration of their federation would rather be sanctioned by the High Court.
They maintain that it is not their fault that there may be outstanding elements of procedure.

Andrew Motsamai, President of BOFEPUSU, said, “It is true that a view has been expressed that we have not fulfilled certain aspects of the procedure, and we have made it plain clear to the authorities that we are ready to comply as long as we can be furnished with a checklist of the requirements so as to establish the crux of the controversy.”

Furthermore, he pointed out that until then, “We remain a legitimately registered federation, which is why we have our certificate of Registration in our possession.”

Pressed to be categorical on whether the law has been complied with, the Minister said, “To the extent that the law still has to be complied with, yes, the federation is unlawful, and we are still engaging with the concerned unions to address the matter in an amicable way.”

In this context, Gadzani Mhosha, Secretary General of the BFTU has told the Sunday Standard that they take the issue seriously enough.

“Our basic understanding of the principles of law is that the law cannot be negotiable,” posited Mhosha.

However, we trust that the authorities will apply their brains rationally and allow the law to take its course.

Although, Mhosha would not be drawn into saying whether they plan to report the matter to the International Labour Organization, inside sources have intimated to the Sunday Standard, that Government has already been tipped to expect, embarrassing revelations, following a prepared a report to the UN agency.

The said report is alleged to contain damning evidence of complicity by some highly placed Government officials, including Commissioner of Labour, to prop up the new federation with a view to undermining the BFTU, which so far remains the internationally recognized national centre in the country.

One private practicing attorney, with special interest on issues of Labour, who declined to be quoted by name, concurred with Mhosha. “If there is agreement that the federation is unlawful, then the next best thing is to strike it off the roll,” he argued.

This followed revelations that some members of Management who include Department directors and Permanent Secretaries, have privately vowed to “avoid exposing Government from any further embarrassment” by de-registering the federation.

It has been established that indeed, BOFEPUSU delegates were invited by Government to participate on behalf of their federation at an ILO sponsored-workshop on Decent Work, for which the Commissioner of Labour was reportedly unrepentant.

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