Monday, September 21, 2020

Teacher dress code rubs unions the wrong way

Botswana Secondary School Teachers Union (BOSETU) appreciates the maiden consultation that the Minister initiated and ultimately had with the Trade Unions when the Minister of Education and Skills Development, Ms Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, took office last year.

A number of comments and observations were made at the meeting.

These were neither policy pronouncements nor legal enactments.
Interestingly, the Minister had brought along with her to the same meeting government media to cover her presentation.

Of course the government media was to later sing praise songs for her.
The private media was not invited. The government media nowadays hardly covers trade unions, either by design or official order, except when the unions have controversial issues that are threatening to tear them asunder.

On hindsight now, it is crystal clear that the meeting with the Minister was not a genuine consultative meeting but a meeting meant to give the Minister a licence to go around announcing policy issues. BOSETU views this as undermining registered and recognized trade unions.

In fact, it violates the spirit of good faith as expressed in both the Trade Disputes Act and Trade Unions and Employers’ Organisation (TUEO) Act.

Botswana labour laws are very explicit on conditions of service of employees and therefore any attempt to vary the conditions is a serious contravention since all these should be negotiated with the trade unions. The Honourable Minister has been reported by the private media while travelling around the country as abolishing the wearing of short sleeve shirts and condemning corporal punishment.

BOSETU is a registered trade union as per the provisions of the TUEO Act and therefore exists as an independent entity.

While its leadership and membership comprise mainly of employees of Teaching Service Management (TSM), BOSETU is not a government department as some senior members of the Ministry of Education and Skills Development seem to treat it.

We call upon the Honourable Minister’s office to resist nagging temptations of making policy announcements on issues that are still to be bargained and negotiated.

The Ministry of Education should get down to serious core business of delivering quality education to Botswana.

Venson-Moitoi’s ministry is still to resolve old issues that are demoralizing teachers like Levels of Operation; Implementation of Scarce Skills for Teachers; Further Studies for Teachers, including for Masters and other levels; Student ÔÇô Teacher ratio; Accommodation Crises; uncoordinated transfers; Teachers allowances and benefits like Professional Allowance and Boarding allowances for teachers in boarding schools; Better Salaries for Teachers; Abolition of Double Shift; payment for the recent invigilation of PSLE, JCE and BGCSE.

BOSETU will appreciate it very much, and even applaud the Minister if she can give the teachers progress report on the above issues.

The Minister has recently addressed teachers and other numerous stakeholders around the country on issues such as Dress Code and Corporal Punishment.
BOSETU is concerned with the Minister’s remarks because they have led to confusion in schools.

Some School Heads apparently are now harassing teachers on dress code, especially, that the Minister demanded that male teachers should strictly wear long sleeve shirts only, and not short ones. The Minister should be advised that dress code is a condition of service and therefore should be negotiated with trade unions if the Minister wants it changed.

And in any case we should be more concerned with quality results!
If the Minister continues with her dress code reforms that are obviously impacting on the teachers’ conditions of service, she should attach a dress allowance and pay for it.

The Code of Regulations and General Orders state that all Officers have to dress in a respectable, neat and clean way.

There are so many short sleeve shirts that meet the above requirement and therefore the Minister should not be worried by short sleeve shirts but the quality of our education.
BOSETU would support the Minister if long sleeve shirts will help produce quality results.

We also see a number of teachers being dragged before the courts of law or Ministry disciplinary committees for having administered corporal punishment.

BOSETU is aware that the Education Act has made prescriptions on how corporal punishment has to be administered.
The Minister’s approach has not been sensitive to the issue, and with time, the results will not be good for the schools.

Because the issue of corporal punishment has not been properly addressed, there was bound to be some serious problems as we see them now.
BOSETU strongly advises the Minister’s team to advise her on these transformations relating to unionization.

Teacher organizations are not staff associations anymore.

The following are some examples of newspaper articles where the Minister made her policy announcements and variations: Mmegi of 18 November 2009 headlined “New Education Minister Reveals Her Plans”, pg 3; Monitor of 30 November 2009 under headline “Venson- Moitoi Vows To Stamp Out Teacher ÔÇô Student Love Affairs”, pg 4; Mmegi of 01 December 2009- “Venson-Moitoi Has Every School Head Singing Along”, pg 3; Botswana Daily News of 01 December 2009 headlined “Collaborative Leadership Important ÔÇô Venson-Moitoi”, pg 3. The Department of Information and Broadcasting and BOPA also carried other various news items about the Minister’s nation-wide tours.

The Assistant Minister, Mr Keletso Rakhudu was also on a trailblazer mission where he is reported by BOPA (2 March 2010) expressing his opinion and reservations about scarce skills for teachers. The Minister believes the policy is not easy to justify who qualifies. BOSETU calls upon the Ministry top leadership not to disadvantage teachers by delaying the implementation of Scarce Skills policy and other related benefits while other government employees enjoys it.

BOSETU expected the Ministry’s department to negotiate and bargain with the unions on issues that affect teachers’ conditions of service before it could make reckless public statements.

In fact, the law calls for negotiations and bargaining.

The Ministry and any other formal organizations are run on established laws, policies and directives and not on personal feelings and opinions.
BOSETU promises the Minister that it will continue to carry out its mandate of seeing to it that quality education is delivered and the working and living conditions of teachers are improved.

BOSETU is planning for some industrial actions since it seems there is no solution to the teachers’ plight on Levels of Operation; Implementation of Scarce Skills for Teachers; Further Studies for Teachers, including for Masters and other levels; Student ÔÇô Teacher ratio; Accommodation Crises; uncoordinated transfers; Teachers allowances and benefits like Professional Allowance and Boarding allowances for teachers in boarding schools; Better Salaries for Teachers; Abolition of Double Shift; payment for the recent invigilation of PSLE, JCE and BGCSE. Solving the above welfare issues will definitely help improve the quality of education in Botswana.
BOSETU prays that the Minister’s advisers will advice the Minister and her assistant accordingly as per the dictates of the law, and not common sense and personal opinions.

Thank you,

*Hunyepa is BOSETU Executive Secretary

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