Relations between government and the public sector trade unions seem to be growing worse by the day. In the latest developments, the public sector unions have come out with guns blazing, shooting salvos at President Ian Khama’s administration and accusing it of dictatorship and disregarding the rule of law.
“Every dictatorship rides roughshod over the national justice system and disregards its findings. The same is happening in Botswana. This country is a dictatorship,” said Pelotshweu Baeng, president of BLLAWU.
The accusations come in the wake of two recent court battles between government and the trade unions, from which government came out badly bruised while the unions emerged victorious. While the unions won the two legal battles, they have little to show for it, as government has not yet acceded to the court rulings. In the first legal brawl, the unions had taken government to court over the Commissioner of Labour’s refusal to grant them industry recognition. Government refused to grant the unions’ industrial recognition, saying they were applying for recognition under the auspices of Botswana Federation of Public Sector Trade unions, which has been cancelled.
“Until this issue is brought to conclusion by the High Court, BOFEPUSU shall remain de-registered, and shall not enjoy any rights of a registered federation,” said Lesego Pule, Registrar of Trade unions.
The unions launched a case at the Industrial Court, arguing that BOFEPUSU’s de-registration is automatically suspended as the case is still under appeal. Government would later back down from the legal battle, granting unions all what they sought. But government is yet to accede to the agreement, and they are planning to sue for contempt of court.
Government lost yet another court battle last week when Lobatse High Court Judge Onkemetse Tshosa turned down an earlier decision by the Director of Public Service Management Festinah Bakwena not to recognize the unions. The decision stalled progress towards the establishment of the public service bargaining council. Once again, government has not acceded to justice Tshosa’s ruling, and the bargaining council remains a pipe dream.
As a result, the unions are threatening a massive public sector strike to compel government to comply with the court rulings. Baeng on Friday said it is clear that the senior public servants who are stalling the implementation of the two court rulings are taking orders from higher up.
“This country’s leadership does not respect the rule of law. They disregard judgements made by the courts and they disobey the law with impunity. The directors would not have resisted court orders on their own. It is clear that they are taking orders from higher up,” he said.
He said Bakwena and Pule report to the Permanent Secretary to the President.
“It is the Office of the President which perpetuates this disregard for the rule of law,” he said.
Baeng said their fateful June 28 meeting between the unions and Bakwena was postponed as she was still taking instructions from the Office of the President.
“She eventually came at 10:30 hours, and surprised us by saying the unions must seek for fresh recognition from government. It is clear that her sudden change of mind was influenced by the instructions that she got from government,” he said.
In the face of such contempt from Botswana’s leadership, said Baeng, they have taken a decision to take the political leadership head on and fight for the workers’ rights.
“We will not sit back and watch anyone trampling on our rights. We will use our numerical strength to seek a political voice that will represent the interests of the masses,” said Baeng.
The unions are considering taking legal action against Bakwena and Pule. At the same time, they will seek a fresh mandate from their membership regarding the latest developments.