The war of words between the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) and its affiliates, among them the Botswana Teachers Union, seems to be intensifying everyday. This week BOPEU president Andrew Motsamai released a hard hitting letter in which he rubbished allegations that his union is government sponsored, lectured BTU President Japhta Radibe on how to maintain cordial relations with the employer and extolled the virtues of the envisaged public sector federation.
Motsamai’s onslaught follows recent allegations that BOPEU is enjoying preferential treatment from government as they were given intensive media coverage by state media during their recent inaugural congress which was attended by a horde of high profile government officials.
BFTU Secretary General Gadzani Mhotsha revealed that they were perturbed by BOPEU’s refusal to affiliate to their federation even after numerous invitations. Inside sources within BOPEU also revealed that the public sector union was reluctant to associate with BFTU because it would sour its relations with government as the federation had within its fold some vigilante labour unions which are bent on fuelling sour relations with the employer at the expense of negotiations, and whose leadership is largely seen to have questionable political affiliations as they are suspected of using the labour movement struggle to play to the media gallery and fuel their political ambitions.
The animosity between BOPEU and other labour movements in Botswana also came to the fore after announcements that BOPEU, together with the Amalgamated Workers Union were at an advanced stage of forming a public sector federation that would rival BFTU.
Last week, labour movements in Botswana who have always accused government officials of snubbing their union functions were incensed after it emerged that Vice President Ian Khama and other high profile government officials had converged at BOPEU’s inaugural conference saying that the same courtesy is not usually extended to them.
BTU president, Japhta Radibe, said that this was proof of government’s discriminatory treatment as it seemed to be dealing harshly with renegade unions while treating BOPEU, which is said to be sucking up to government, with kid gloves.
BOPEU did not take kindly to these accusations and proceeded to pour water on Radibe and Mhotsha’s utterances, saying that they were unfounded and would only work to mislead innocent Batswana if left unchallenged.
Motsamai said that the envisaged public sector federation was a noble initiative that is not in any way sponsored by government. He added that the expectation by BFTU that unionized public sector labour movements would immediately affiliate to it is flawed as it fails to appreciate international trends and best practices.
“It is reasonably clear that the BFTU wants to promote trade union monopoly, and any effort made to unite the public sector unions into a stronger force shall always be seen as a challenge to them,” he charged.
The BOPEU president also said that he fails to understand the assertion that they are forming a splinter federation. He revealed that government, through the envisaged merging of the public sector act, is looking to control the public sector unions with one legal instrument, and, therefore, the recent convention has resolved to support the idea of a strong public sector federation which will position itself for the bargaining processes that will follow the envisaged merged Public Service Act. ”The public sector federation will unite workers in the public sector,” he said.
Motsamai dismissed BTU president, Japhta Radibe, who doubles as BFTU president, as a bitter man who is still reeling from the fact that he was snubbed by the Director of Teaching Service Management, Opelo Makhandela, when he refused to attend the recent BTU congress in Kasane.
“It is regrettable that instead of engaging the Ministry of Education in negotiations Radibe chooses to attack BOPEU. We need to remind the BTU cum BFTU president that unlike BTU, BOPEU is not a ministerial union but has members in all government ministries including MoE. As employing agents these ministries should, therefore, attend congresses to hear our complaints,” Motsamai lectured Radibe.
He went on to tell the BTU president that problems are solved around the table and not through the media, urging BTU to include issues the MoE officials’ attendance to congresses during their collective labour agreements.
BFTU Secretary General Gadzani Mhotsha was also not spared as he was challenged to make his alluded invitation letter public. Motsamai said that as far as they were concerned BFTU only wrote them a letter proposing a meeting to discuss possibilities of affiliation after making claims to The Sunday Standard.