A section of the over 3000 teachers engaged by Botswana Examination Council (BEC) to mark the 2012 examination papers downed tools at Rainbow English Medium school-Gaborone on Thursday demanding payment of overdue subsistence allowances.
It took officers from BEC to calm down the angry teachers and persuade them to return to their workstations. The teachers, who are from different parts of the country, started marking in Gaborone on November 25 and are entitled to transport, meals and accommodation allowances but some of them had not been paid by the end of the week.
Confirming the incident BEC public relations officer, Charles Keikotlhae, said delays were caused by the processing of information submitted by the teachers at the commencement of marking which resulted in some receiving their allowances late. “We are continuing with the payments and hope to have credited all allowances into their accounts by Saturday,” said Keikotlhae on Friday.
Some of the teachers who spoke to Sunday Standard on condition of anonymity claimed that they had been promised that all allowances would be paid prior to commencement of marking to enable them to secure accommodation and transport for the duration. This, they said, has inconvenienced them a lot.
In an interesting twist, the union representing teachers, Botswana Sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU), has distanced itself from their members’ grievances.
Secretary General Tobokani Rari said the union cannot intervene because they do not have a working relationship with BEC, and that the teachers have brought the predicament upon themselves by defying a union resolution to boycott marking to force the latter to work with union(s) representing them.
He said the world over employers prefer to deal with individual employees thus fragmenting the workforce and reducing their bargaining power. In the current situation, he said, teachers are given a predetermined contract without any negotiations over the conditions therein. “We have received reports that some marking centers are not conducive due to lack of air conditioning
There are allegations that in some instances BEC has violated labour laws by varying the conditions of the contract they entered into with the teachers engaged for marking by changing the final date of marking from December 14. Rari points out that the teachers engaged for marking work very long hours including weekends but are not properly remunerated for working on rest days. “This should be a lesson to workers in general that they should not enter into contracts which they do not have any bargaining or negotiation powers over as they will be disadvantaged,” said Rari.
The resolution to boycott BEC invitations was taken in 2008 at a BOSETU conference in Maun. However after the 2010 examination crisis and as the union credibility took a beating as teachers continued to defy the resolution the National Consultative Council (NCC) resolved to pull out of the issue. This was after it became apparent that individual teachers wanted to continue to be engaged as markers. “The only way for us is to keep lobbying our members to appreciate the value of being represented in negotiations. In the next NCC and the next conference we will present the issue before members again,” said Rari.
Since 2006 BOSETU has been courting BEC to enter into a memorandum of understanding, which would allow the union to represent teachers in negotiations over the conditions of their contracts for marking and invigilation of examinations. BEC has consistently refused the union advances arguing that teachers are not their direct employees but are only engaged temporarily on short term basis. “Legally we don’t have employment contracts with them as this is only a temporary engagement. However the relationship will be reviewed over time,” said Keikotlhae.