A three year stand-off between operators of earth moving Caterpillars and the Central District Council, over payments is still unresolved and costing the government millions of pula in delayed projects.
Operators of earth-moving Caterpillars and excavators complain that were taken for a ride and paid inadequate salaries while officials argue that the operators were not operating machines but tractors and were therefore not entitled to the B4 salary scale that they were demanding.
At the height of the dispute, the operators decided to down tools because they felt that they were being paid at a salary scale that falls below their technical expertise. They, therefore, decided that they would only drive ordinary vehicles and not operate heavy machines as they were not being paid to do so.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard last week, Chief Technical Officer Auto, Boikaego Leshaga, said that the dispute between the operators, drivers and their employer goes back to 2003 when they were still under the roads department.
Leshaga said that the practice has always been that the roads department, through its workshops, controls the drivers, the cars and machinery and their maintenance. The drivers and operators were thus under the roads department at the time when they complained that they were not being treated fairly.
In 2003 when the dispute started, all the machines were centralized at the head office and projects were carried out using the tandem system in which all the machinery in the district would service one project before moving on to the other.
The drivers and operators then complained that they were constantly posted to areas that were outside their sphere of operation for longer periods of time even though their conditions of service dictated that they are not transferable.
They also complained that though they operated heavy plant machinery, like caterpillars and excavators, they were not paid a commensurate salary (B3 scale) but rather remunerated as ordinary drivers at B4 scale.
At the time all the truck and heavy duty drivers and machine operators were holistically trained by the roads department such that they could have expertise in various fields so as to encourage efficiency during projects.
“A heavy duty driver, for example, was trained to be able to operate a grader and a tipper truck and so on. They used these machines interchangeably at the projects sites,” said Leshaga.
This endeavor, he said, was taken in line with the government’s apprenticeship act which dictates that employees must be trained on the job. But this was in contrast with the conditions of service for industrial class employees which dictate that employees are hired for a particular post and paid accordingly for that post.
Drivers, for example, are hired for a particular category of vehicles or machinery for which they will be paid accordingly.
The drivers, therefore, felt that though they had been trained to operate numerous machinery and vehicles it was unfair for government to expect them to do that when they were not paid the relevant salary scale.
On the other hand, the roads department argued that the caterpillars, tipper trucks and excavators that the drivers were operating were not machines but tractors and, therefore, did not deserve the B3 scale that the operators were demanding.
A stalemate was reached as the operators decided that they would not operate the disputed machinery.
In a bid to solve the problem, government made a decision to decentralize the use of their machinery and also stopped the tandem system as that was the core of the employees’ complaints.
But the stopping of the tandem system and the decentralizing of machinery were, on their own, ineffective as there was no accompanying salary adjustment. Machinery that was deployed to various sub districts within the CDC remained idle as operators still refused to touch it.
The decentralization exercise proved to be yet another blunder by the administration in the Central District Council as machinery was posted to areas that had no qualified personnel to operate it.
A semblance of a solution to the problem emerged in the 2005-2006 budget when the government dictated that operators be moved from the Roads Department to the Transport Department.
By the 2006-2007 budget, Leshaga was able to create 5 posts in the Central District to accommodate and make use of the operators who were refusing to operate the heavy machines.
Posts have been created at the B3 scale though the issue has not been amicably resolved as some officials still feel that the operators do not deserve the salary scale as they operate tractors.
But though such posts were created, the problem is far from over as there is still a dire shortage of personnel to cater for the machinery that lies idle.
“Unfortunately, it is a general practice that government usually provides more machinery and vehicles without matching the required personnel,” said Leshaga.
The Central District Council, for example, has been given 4 graders and 3 tipper trucks this year but they do not have the manpower to operate them.
Leshaga said that from the 5 posts that were created, the Serowe-Palapye Sub District was given 2 operators, Mahalapye 2, while Bobirwa was given one. No other appointments have been made to other sub districts though they also have idling machinery.
Leshaga admitted to The Sunday Standard that projects have been greatly affected by this stand-off, adding that there are anticipated implementation problems as there will be delays due to limited efficiency caused by manpower shortage.
Leshaga added that the problem would gradually be resolved as more posts are created and the operators are paid accordingly at grade B3.
A representative of the Botswana Amalgamated Manual Workers Union, Lesetse Gontse, told The Sunday Standard that management in the CDC had been assured that funds had been approved to enable creation of more posts for operators at the B3 scale. He also confirmed that as of Friday most of the machinery in the CDC still lay idle as operators still refused to operate them.
Efforts to reach the CDC Council Secretary, Khumo Matlhare, proved futile as he referred this newspaper back to Leshaga.