Allegations to the effect that public service unions affiliated to the controversial Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) were contemplating countrywide industrial action on Tuesday 7th 2010 have been viewed as cowardly and irresponsible behavior.
There were fears that if it happened, many well-meaning employees could lose their jobs without any prospects of being hired again.
On that basis, the tertiary, Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) and the Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU), have openly dissociated themselves from the “Big Five”, on the basis that the move is not in any way connected to the wages or conditions of service of their members.
The two unions further pleaded with their membership and the public in general not to support such a strike, adding that they were not privy to, and will not take part in the strike.
“The real cause of the strike is the draft constitution of the bargaining council, especially clause 6.1 which relates to the admission of trade unions to the council. Lately, the “Big five”, with the assistance of the Directorate of Public Service Management, are of the view that TAWU and BOGOWU must be excluded from the process despite being recognized unions,” read a joint statement released by the two unions.
It was argued that such thinking breached by any definition the essence of section 46 of the new public service act, which provided for recognition of trade unions on the basis of a threshold of “1/3 of employees of the employer in the same trade”.
Interestingly, the five unions in their recently submitted application for industry recognition cited the issue of collective bargaining as a basis for joint action.
That was after generalized fear that DPSM was intent on de-recognizing all the public service unions since none of them met the 1/3 threshold of “all employees of the employer,” referring to the whole public service as derived from the ruling of the Appeals Court in Botswana Railways versus BR Crew Union.
In that regard, the joint TAWU-BOGOWU position is that, BOFEPUSU sponsored strike was unnecessary as the issues involved were about matters of interpretation of the law, namely the public service act, which could only be resolved by the courts.
Thus, striking over a matter of interpretation will not help resolve the issue. Issues of salaries and benefits are just being added on to justify and give it credibility.
What seems to compound the matter more is, that required statutory notice of 48 hours, which should be given to the Commissioner of Labour, in the case of protected strike has not been issued.
Again, it has been submitted in the joint release signed by leaders of BOGOWU and TAWU, the strike was not in furtherance of a dispute of interest as prescribed by law, but of a confused view of a right drawing from an unregistered draft constitution of the bargaining council.
What comes to mind is what became of the fate of the now forgotten 461 employees of DEBSWANA, who were fired because of the “informed guidance” of their leaders.
By the same token, any public servants may not aware of the risk of mass dismissals they faced.