Tuesday, August 9, 2022

TAWU threatens worldwide boycott against Limkokwing

In its latest spat with the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT), the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) has threatened to mobilise an international cyberpicketing and boycott campaign against the school, which has campuses in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Borneo, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, United Kingdom and Indonesia.

The two sides are fighting over the requirement by the college that all staff should wear black uniform when in the past a labour inspection report has stated that legally, Limkokwing’s staff cannot be forced to wear black uniform because the employer does not provide it.

Mercy Thebe, Limkokwing’s Director of Corporate, Industry and Media Relations, says that the law can neither dictate to a private enterprise what corporate colour it chooses nor decide what its brand should be.

“Employers are not prohibited by law from requiring their employees to wear corporate colour or insist on a specific dress code,” she says, adding later that the Limkokwing nurse also wears black.
While unusual, the latter is not in violation of the International Council of Nurses rules which insist on epaulettes, not colour of uniform.

On the other hand, Edward Tswaipe, TAWU’s deputy president, says that Limkokwing’s position is so “arrogant and trivialising” that even the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM) would be ashamed of what it describes as “blatant egotism.”

Says Tswaipe: “Limkokwing is not the only company in Botswana with a corporate brand. The problem is that they insist that employees should wear a single colour and not have to bear the financial burden of maintaining such brand or colour and demand universal compliance and observance of such. That is unlawful and this is what the labour inspection report said in 2008. Employers are prohibited from imposing a cost on their employees to finance an image which only benefits the company at their expense. Not every instruction of the employer is lawful.”

In addition to what the labour report said, Limkokwing and TAWU also have a collective labour agreement (CLA) in terms of which staff members who choose not to wear black “shall not be victimised or intimidated.” However, some staff members allege that they are being intimidated by both management as well the college owner, Professor Tan Sri Dato Sri Paduka Dr. Limkokwing, to wear black. The latter is said to have made such intimidation at a staff meeting that he addressed on October 9, 2012. Thebe denies this allegation saying that out of a total of 294 staff members who attended the said meeting, only three were not wearing black “and no-one singled them out or made them feel unwelcome, neither did he ask anyone of them to leave.”

However, according to Tswaipe, the victim of such intimidation was a TAWU member who was given a black jacket by management to wear over a colourful shirt. “The black jacket is in the union office as an exhibit,” he says, further stating that the management is recruiting internally to replace the Head of Faculty of Business, who has failed to enforce the black dress code.

The new Limkokwing contracts state that “it is the policy of the University for Staff Members to wear BLACK clothing” at all times. Thebe’s appreciation of this issue is that this is perfectly lawful.

“There is nothing to prevent an employer from including an express term in the contract of employment outlining the dress code that employees have to observe. Expectation is all staff members should wear corporate colour for identity and a sign of team spirit. Consistency in employee appearance can create a positive impression and contribute to projecting the corporate image. When one is employed they are an employee of LUCT first before they become a member of the union and the CLA covers the union bargaining unit,” she says.

Tswaipe counters that by saying that the more important question is whether the school respects the CLA and the Trade Disputes Act (on which authority it rests) or any other law for that matter.
“If an express term contravenes a statute, an existing collective agreement or a judgment of court then it is unlawful,” he says.

The school and the union have been fighting pitched battles over this issue for the past four years. TAWU now wants to add more firepower by launching an international campaign against Limkokwing through global bodies it is affiliated to. Tswaipe says that the union plans to report Limkokwing to Educational International (EI), a body which represents 30 million educators across the globe as well as to Laborstart, an American online news service that assists trade unions in online campaigning.

“We will ask EI to campaign for the boycott of Limkokwing schools around the world and Laborstart to cyberpicket the school. It is neither difficult nor costly: all we will do is write just one paragraph and send it off to EI which will organise a relentless campaign against Limkokwing. This school is image-conscious school and the campaign will damage its image,” says Tswaipe who, besides his trade unionism, teaches Employment Relations at the Botswana Public Sector College in Gaborone.

The cyberpicketing he speaks of takes the form of an employer’s email box being flooded with petitioners’ messages in so coordinated and intensive a manner that the server will be overwhelmed and ultimately crash. Laborstart is currently undertaking such cyberpicketing campaigns in Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

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