Only two years after its birth, the tender Public Service Act is to go under the knife. To that end, trade unions are being asked to suggest what parts of the Act need to be nipped and tucked.
In a letter dated July 24, 2012 that was delivered to trade unions last week, the Director of Public Service Management, Carter Morupisi, informs trade union leaders that his department is in the process of reviewing the Act in order to align with other national and international labour laws.
“To this end, as part of the wider consultative process, you are being invited to make an input on possible areas you may feel need to be considered in the review process,” says Morupisi’s letter, adding that unions have until this Friday (August 10) to have made such submissions.
However, even before that process starts, some trade unionists smell a big rancid rat. Goretetse Kekgonegile of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions hints at the possibility of the process being motivated by bad faith on the part of the government.
“The aftermath of last year’s strike could be what prompted the government to want to amend the Act. Its health and education sector operations suffered badly during the strike and it may want to ensure that in future that doesn’t happen again. If that is the reason the government wants to amend the Act, then it would be acting in bad faith,” Kekgonegile says, referring to the month-long strike by public servants that crippled some government services.
He also feels that while some minor changes could be made to the law, the government’s action come much sooner than can be reasonably expected.
“Why the rush? Why give such short time for unions to consult when the government’s own internal consultation obviously took much longer? We will need to travel countrywide to consult our members but the time we have been allowed to do that is not enough. This is something we will certainly have to talk to DPSM about,” Kekgonegile says.
BOFEPUSU, the organisation that he is publicity secretary of, is a loose confederation of five public sector unions that organised last year’s strike.
Conversely, Edward Tswaipe, the vice president of the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) says that the Act’s amendment was inevitable because its attempt to be everything (collective labour law, individual labour law and administrative law) has proved to be unavailing.
“The right approach would have been to promulgate two complementary pieces of legislation that meet ILO standards. That is what South Africa did with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Labour Relations Act,” Tswaipe says.
His argument is that Botswana could have ended up with appropriate legislation hadn’t the government terminated the services of an ILO consultant, Andre Van Niekerk, a South African labour law expert who was in favour of an integrated model similar to South Africa’s. Tswaipe says that TAWU, which was part of the reference group working on the law, rejected the Public Service Act as it presently is.
Even though the bill was passed in 2008 and assented to by the president, the law came into force in 2010. Tswaipe says that this delay was a result of sharp divisions within the Government Enclave. He identifies three factions with regard to how the law viewed: the first was opposed to granting civil servants the right to strike, the second wanted the law to be promulgated because BOFEPUSU was exerting way too much political pressure on the government and the third was opposed to the law purely on the basis of its legal deficiencies.
“This is basically a continuation of what happened in 2008. The main problem I see coming about is if the group that is against the right to strike triumphing over others,” he says.