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BOPEU battles Statistics Botswana over restructuring

MPHO MOKWAPE
BOPEU members in court yesterday. PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE
The Industrial Court has reserved a ruling in a case in which the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) accuses Statistics Botswana of re-structuring and outsourcing posts without consultation.

Yesterday, Justice Virgil Vergeer said he will deliver judgement next week after the attorney representing BOPEU, Odirile Otto Itumeleng indicated that the matter was urgent.

He said Statistics Botswana was busy outsourcing work after vacancies created by employees whose contracts had expired, therefore the matter should be dealt with urgently to address the situation. “We want a relieve order issued on urgency pending the return date for the arguments on the merits of the case on failure to consult and bargain with the union,” he said.

The union want the state statistics agency to be held in contempt for going against a court order issued on March 9, 2015. BOPEU brought the matter to the Industrial Court last week Thursday as a urgent application after Statistics Botswana advertised and awarded a tender that saw employees, especially drivers and cleaners, lose their jobs. The employees were hired on three-year contracts that expired on March 30, 2015. BOPEU wants to negotiate the fate of the employees with Statistics Botswana. The union is not happy that the statistics agency went ahead with outsourcing after the expiry of the contracts.

When addressing the urgency of the application, Itumeleng argued that Statistics Botswana had no right to go ahead with advertising the tender for outsourcing the posts while they had failed to engage and negotiate with the union to see if the employees could be re-hired or retained.

He stated that the management of the statistics agency had failed to bring and present the issue before BOPEU for bargaining and negotiations, but rather preferred to restructure and outsource without consultations yet it claims posts are not available. “The posts are still there.

They have not been cancelled like the company is claiming and they are already filling those posts while they could have negotiated with the employees whose contracts were expiring,”    Itumeleng submitted. He argued that Statistics Botswana re-structured and outsourced the posts against a court order, which interdicted the agency from implementing its policies without the input of the union.

The order was issued on February 18, 2015 on an interim basis and made final on March 9, 2015. It interdicted, restrained and prohibited Statistics Botswana from unilaterally amending or varying employees’

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terms and conditions of service. However, the agency went ahead to advertise and award a tender before even the contracts of the former employees elapsed contrary to the order.

Attorney representing Statistics Botswana, Thabiso Tafila responded that the application should be dismissed with costs because the matter had no urgency, was self-created and the applicants had no reasonable arguable case.

“The order we are seeking is that there is no urgency on the matter and it should be dismissed because my client was exercising his discretion, the former employees are just holding my client in ransom unnecessarily and preventing them from implementing its policies,” he said.

Tafila argued that the applicants knew about the ending of their contracts for the long run and that they did not do anything to address whatever was bothering them.

He said the employees were hired on a three-year basis and knew that the time would come when their contracts would expire and that they would not be renewed as the company had communicated to them on time.

“They were informed that their contracts would expire and that their posts would be outsourced as the company was looking to save costs. They were even engaged in several meetings as a reminder to the expiry of their contracts and 10 posts were opened for all drivers to apply and those that were not taken were told that their job was finished,” he explained.

Tafila argued that his client had no legal obligation to involve the union on the ending of the contracts for the former employees because they knew for the past three years when the contracts terminate and the court had no right to interfere.

“The company was simply implementing its policies that have been in place and what would give the court a legal right to interfere with the business in making economically viable decisions for sustainability and growth,” he stated.

He argued that the applicants’ contention had no bearing on the order that was issued as the policies that were implemented had been introduced a long time ago before the order was even issued and that he did not see any reason why his client should stop outsourcing the posts.



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