Thursday, May 28, 2020

Unions engage gov’t over COVID-19

Unions representing public servants have engaged the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) director Goitseone Mosalakatane to find best ways to minimize the spread of COVID-19.  The unions are Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), Botswana Nurses Union (BONU), Manual Workers Union, Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and Botswana Land Board & Local Authorities & Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU).  

In a letter addressed to the secretaries of these unions, the coordinator of the meeting, Tobokani Rari states trade unions proposed that public servants be categorized into three (3) for this purpose. First category is called The Frontline / COVID – 19 Essential Service Employees. He explained that those providing direct services to the public with respect to COVID – 19, eg nurses, doctors, immigration officers, some drivers etc. The second group involve what he termed The Less Vulnerable Back – Up Employees (LVBUEs) which are those that provide critical support services during this time of COVID, eg accountants, procurement officers and others who provide critical backroom support. 

The third group is called the Non – Contact Service Providers (NCSP); “These are employees whose work do not necessarily need them to be physically present at the work, either because of the usual nature of their duty, or because the already effected COVID – 19 precautionary measures that have left them with minimum work. E.g teachers, IT Officers etc,” said Rari.

Measures proposed for Essential Service Providers / FrontlineEmployees to minimise the spread of COVID – 19 are that these employees be provided mandatorily with all the necessary paraphernalia that would protect them from being infected on line of duty through protective overalls, masks, hand sanitizers, frequent check-ups among others. “That the employer, being government, should extend to these employees 100% medical aid contribution and cover during the period of the scourge. That the employer, being government, should insure these workers during the period of the scourge,” said Rari.  

It was also proposed that “That this disease be classified as a compensable – diseases such that these frontline employees be compensated in cases of them being infected on line of duty or even in cases of loss of life. Consequent to this, the 6CTU proposed an establishment of compensation fund.”

I was also proposed that “That just as the Frontline Employees, mandatory availing of the necessary protective paraphernalia should be a priority,”
 and that “That these employees should in the spirit of adhering to social distancing and de – congesting the work places, be allowed to work in shifts. This will also go a long way to alleviate congestion in transport modes enroute to and from work.” For the Non – Contact Service Providers, it was proposed That their workplaces like every other workplace be mandatorily availed with necessary preventative essentials to avoid infections.

As a way of adhering to social distancing and decongesting workplaces, such employees be allowed to work from their homes. “As for teachers, besides being allowed to work from home, a further proposal was made that they could be released from work to recuperate, energize and debrief in preparation for some intense catch – up programs with students as schools resume,” Rari said. 

 It was also proposed that those might take a toll on them. This would as well assist in enforcing the social distancing and decongestingwork places initiatives. The unions raised a concern about departments that haveissued ultimatums that employees should take their paid leave days and go on leave.  “The unions regarded these as forced leaves that by law, are not allowed, or could only be arrived at after a negotiation process because of extra – ordinary circumstances. In this case no such negotiation process has been entered into, and as such it’s illegal to force people to go on leave,” said Rari.   

He added that “This issue was agreed upon by the parties, and DPSM promised to provide guidance to departments on it and would further request those departments that have put up such ultimatums to retract them.”

The unions also raised another issue concerning leave that some departments unjustifiable refuse to grant employees leave.  It was also agreed upon that the statutes and other regulations regulating leave have not been lifted, and as such, employees requesting for leave should be subjected to the usual test of the exigencies of the service and be granted or denied leave as has always been the case.

“The DPSM requested to be given an opportunity to reflect on the issues raised above and also to bounce them on their mandate givers, safe for those that concern leave that have already been agreed upon,” said Rari.

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Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.