Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Unions accuse government of double standards

Public sector unions affiliated to the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) have accussed government of double standard in dealing the politicking unions.
 The government, through the Director of the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM), Carter Morupisi wrote a letter to unions a fortnight withdrawing from the council citing unhappiness over the decision of the unions to utter political statements to the effect that they will urge their members to support certain political candidates in the 2014 elections.
 In a sworn statement before court, BOFEPUSU secretary general, Tobokani Rari stated that unions cannot be accused of making political statements and thus prejudicing activities of the council when the chairman of the council, Modiri Mbaakanyi is a member of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) finance committee.
┬á“…It is a matter of public knowledge that the chairman of the council, Modiri Mbaakanyi, is the ruling Botswana Democratic Party’s activist, who as a member of its finance committee, naturally makes political statements outside the council but the applicants (unions) cannot seriously complain about him when such political statements have no bearing on the actual talks or other activity of the council,” Rari said.
┬áRari slammed government for failing to demonstrate how the alleged statements in the media made by union officials have prejudiced the activities of the council, including how they have a bearing on the salaries’ negotiations of 2013/2014 financial year.
┬á“In any event, it cannot be seriously contended that, even if the applicants (unions) conduct is unlawful for any reason, the 1st respondent (government) is entitled to effectively freeze the activities of a body established by an Act of Parliament without resorting to court.”
He said union officials who made such alleged political statements were exercising their freedom of expression in encouraging public servants to register to vote; and to vote strategically.
 Rari said at no point did the unions office bearers indentify any particular party which their members should vote for. He said the statements were made by the office bearers at the meetings of their members, far away from the council and did not in any way refer to what was going on at the council.
┬á“There is no possibility that such statements can have an impact on the activities of the bargaining council and its daily running. One of the bargaining council’s functions is to facilitate disputes resolutions. The bargaining council was never at any point in time given an opportunity to attempt to resolve the first respondent’s complaints,” he said
┬áRari also said Morupisi’s decision was made unilaterally without engaging the unions.
“The reasons advanced for suspending participation by the 1st respondent are grossly unreasonable or irrational because statements made outside the council, which are unrelated to pending negotiations or the business of the council can never influence the activities of the council in anyway. Furthermore, the decision is grossly unreasonable by reason of the fact that if there is an issue with respect to the conduct of the parties to the council, it is not for the 1st respondent to resort to self- help and grant itself a remedy which it is not entitled to in law,” he charged.
Rari said the abrupt decision of government to pull out of the negotiations table three days before a scheduled meeting was to take place smacks of bad faith. He said the decision is a nullity because it is in breach of natural justice and it is a flagrant breach of the Public Service Act.
However, government through Attorney General has argued that members of the unions, by virtue of them being public service employees have agreed that legislation governing the public service is applicable to them.
“More apposite to this matter the members have agreed with 1st respondent that they are not going to violate section 5(5) and section 37(c) of the Public Service Act…. As far as bargaining council is concerned, section 56 of the PSA encourages collective bargaining councils not to allow politics or anything which may be reasonably regarded to be of political nature to interfere with or influence the activities of the council.
“Furthermore the applicants have been aware of the rules of negotiations including the manner they should conduct themselves. In terms of the rules the applicants should not conduct themselves in a manner that is unruly and disruptive. There is no doubt that making statements of a political nature through the media is unruly and disruptive to the negotiations. Therefore the applicants only have themselves to blame for displaying conduct which contravenes the rules of negotiations and which affect the agreement between the 1st respondent and the public officers whom unions represent,” government lawyers argued.
Government and the unions have contributed a lot of money mounting to eight million Pula in order for the bargaining council to become operational. Part of this money comes from the tax payers while some comes from contribution of union members as subscriptions.
The matter is expected to be argued on 25 September before Lobatse Judge Tshepo Motswagole.

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