A veteran unionist has warned government to refrain from issuing statements using the state controlled electronic media that the ongoing public service strike action has no impact on service delivery.
Johnson Motshwarakgole, the Labour Secretary of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSO) said the repercussions of more such statements could propel the unions to flex their muscles and close down four of the country’s major public hospitals as well as border posts.
Motshwarakgole lectured to the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Mokgweetsi Masisi, that the government’s refusal to air the alternative views of the five public sector unions went against the principle of the right to be heard as espoused by the country’s first President, Sir Seretse Khama.
He held, to the approval of striking workers, that by suppressing the alternative views of the unions using the government controlled media to advance its own propaganda, such action could make the first president of the republic to turn in his grave and rise to defend the Setswana saying “Mmualebe o bua la gagwe,” (One is entitled to their own opinion).
“Don’t allow your ancestors to turn their backs on you. Do not underestimate the power of the unions. If you provoke us, we will shut down four major hospitals. We are capable of shutting down borders,” Motshwarakgole warned.
The unionist was speaking after five public sector unions, on behalf of workers, handed a petition to Masisi calling for, among others, government to put an end to replacing labour at departments where skeleton staff is not coping in offering services to the public as a result of the nationwide strike action. The unions say one such unlawful act is evident at Princess Marina Hospital.
The five public sector unions blame the government for intimidating workers and for its misinformation campaign that school heads cannot engage in the strike action while the new Public Service Act says they are not managers.
“The government says the strike has no impact but in their court papers before the industrial court, they argue that we have broken the strike rules to have at least 30 percent of the workforce at the work place,” argued Motshwarakgole.
The unionist said while the law allowed the unions to picket at the workplace after 14 days, which the unions have respected, the government is engaged in underhand dealings by recruiting replacement labour that includes members of the disciplined forces. To this end, the unions have taken the government to the Industrial Court.
Masisi promised striking workers that the petition will be delivered to the relevant authority, adding that the response will be given to the leadership of the five public sector unions.