In what could be early signs of waking up to realities of a toughening environment, labour organisations that have hitherto operated disparately and often at loggerheads are showing signs of moving closer to one another in an effort to speak with one voice.
The call for unity has been made by BULGSA (Botswana Unified Local Government Service Association).
BULGASA is inviting other trade unions to come around and revamp the BFTU.
It is only with a strong umbrella BFTU that government would heed a call for a salaries commission, says BULGSA.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard after their meeting in Gaborone, BULGSA Publicity Secretary, Ishmael William, said that they had resolved to throw their weight behind the BFTU and that they had made a number of resolutions, one of them being to urge other labour organisations in Botswana to rally behind the embattled mother body.
“As BULGSA we do not believe in the proliferation of labor organisations. Divisions hamper cohesion. Such divisions can only be detrimental to the labour movement. Our strength lies in our numbers,” he said.
He added that those who want to destroy the numerical strength of the labour movements would always advocate for divisions and the formation of splinter organisations.
BULGSA’s call to arms comes after some labour organisations, which are affiliates to BFTU, raised complaints that the federation, whose role is to facilitate dialogue between the labor organizations, failed to effectively articulate their issues to the relevant authorities.
The affiliates felt that the BFTU leadership was not functional and had lost touch with member organizations.
Another concern was that the BFTU is not proactive in reso0lving internal bickering within its affiliates.
“BFTU is only a member of the advisory board of government, such that government is not forced to invite them in their deliberations,” said one insider who added that because of this, government does not always heed the concerns and issues raised by BFTU.
As a result of all these grievances some BFTU affiliates felt that the better option was for them to form a splinter federation that would effectively represent them in negotiations with government. But the labor organisations have unanimously slammed the dissident alternative as counterproductive.
The Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Secretary General, Jack Tlhagale, told The Sunday Standard that it was unreasonable for some BFTU affiliates to decide to part ways with the federation just because they were not happy with the federation’s leadership.
Tlhagale also called for both parties to engage in more meaningful dialogue adding that, as in all organisations, there are forums through which such issues can be dealt with.
The issue, he said, is electing more competent leadership into office.
Tlhagale also cautioned against some unscrupulous individuals who parade as champions in the fight for the workers rights while in fact they are government agents sent to sow discord among labour organizations.
In a separate interview, BMWU Chairman, Chimbidzani Chimidza, raised complaints that the dissident faction within the miner’s workers union was actually sponsored by government to wreak havoc and confusion.
Although the dissidents lost the long and protracted battle, it has since emerged that dissidents were paid full salaries during the more than six months that they spent in prison. It also emerged that the BCL, the mining company in which they were employed, also fuelled the instability within BMWU by ignoring the elected representatives at the mine.
The dissidents would, after release from prison, walk right back to their posts, even though they had been absent for more than six months.
Tlhagale and Chimidza cited these events as proof of the fact that there was a concerted effort to destabilize the labour movement in Botswana.
BFTU Administrative Secretary, Stevie Mandevu, also applauded BULGSA’s initiative saying that only unity would help BFTU to effectively negotiate with government.
Botswana Secondary Education Teachers Union Deputy Secretary General, Norbett Motsumi, also told The Sunday Standard that the better option would be to resuscitate BFTU rather than forming a splinter organisation.
Commenting on the need for a salaries commission, BULGSA’s William said Batswana have generally experienced an erosion of their purchasing power.
He said it is a result of a number of government interventions and economic forces inflation, currency devaluation, rising utility prices, increasing fuel costs and VAT that was introduced a few years back.
William said it is important to remember that the last salaries commission was in 1993, headed by former Minister Bahiti Temane.
With the Finance Minister Baledzi Gaolathe expected to deliver the national budget speech on Monday, they hope that government would not institute an across the board salary hike, but rather make a structural increase through which those in the lower brackets would get a higher percentage raise and those earning more would get a lower increment.
“This will bridge the gap between the rich and the poor,” he said.
William also said that products and services would become more expensive such that the ordinary man, who is living below the poverty datum line, would not be able to afford the basic needs.
He also said that the civil service was built on the backs of civil servants, and is still run by them, adding that instead of privatization, a better option would have to be the revamping of the civil service.
William also shot down the directorate on Intelligence and Security Bill saying that it was an ulterior motive by government to shut down dissenting voices.
He added that there was no threat to the security of Botswana, especially in the wake of stabilizing the SADC region.
He said existing instruments, like the BDF ACT and others, are sufficient to ensure national security.
“This act is a draconian law that is made to shut down those who have dissenting voices against the powers that be,” he said.