FRANCISTOWN: Public servants under the banner of the Botswana Sectors of Teachers Unions (BOSETU) marched in Francistown to protest against the recent passing of “draconian labour laws” in Parliament “meant to stifle the bargaining powers of public service unions in Botswana”.
Various speakers at the protest march preceding the annual BOSETU conference in Francistown accused the state of being hell-bent and on a mission to completely reduce the powers of unions so that they are reduced to toothless dogs.
First to attack the government was the secretary general of BOSETU, Tobokani Rari who slammed the state for its cavalier attitude of treating unions as mere spectators in the running of the economy by passing laws that directly affect the labour movement without consulting them.
“Government is moving very swiftly to amend all labour statutes that regulate workers in the country. Instead of improving the clauses, they are regressing despite several attempts by unions under the banner of Botswana Federation of Public Sector Trade Unions (BOFEPUSU) to caution the employer against amending the laws without first consulting its primary beneficiaries, unions,” said Rari to a big round of applause.
Rari said they have taken their concerns before the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) labour committee but have kept quiet and did not reply.
He added: “We wrote to cabinet wanting to have audience with it but we were told that it was impossible to address it. Instead we were told to see the minister of presidential affairs and public administration, Eric Molale, which was a useless gesture because he has never taken us seriously from our past engagements with him.”Fortunately, Rari said the parliamentary caucus of the opposition gave them the opportunity to talk to them in order to understand their grievances first hand.
Rari also said that they wrote to the speaker of the national assembly, Gladys Kokorwe, asking her to give them permission to address the national assembly about their concerns but she never replied. “We also aired our concerns with the embassy of the United States of America who accrded us an audience. We have resolved to hold public demonstrations across the country to show members of the community that
The outspoken trade unionist said it is also clear that the government is moving at breakneck speed to convert almost all public servants into the essential services cadre adding that he will not be surprised if support services staff in the teaching fraternity were also included under the essential services group in the future.
“By changing all these laws, the government does not want workers to enjoy their right to strike which is an essential tool we may use if the government does not listen to us. It should however be noted that we shall strike as the last resort after all avenues to engage the employer have failed and not just at the drop of the ha,” he said. Rari said it is disheartening for government to force teachers to supervise external examinations contrary to a judgement that was passed by former Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of the Francistown High Court. The mandate to supervise external examinations, Rari said, falls squarely at the doorsteps of Botswana Examinations Council (BEC).
The president of BOSETU Kwenasebele Modukanele said if government continues shun unions, they should take to the streets.
“We shall never shy away from fighting oppressive laws that are made to curtail the rights of the labour movement,” he said. The president of Botswana National Front Youth League (BNFYL), Richard Khumoekae, emphasised the right to strike as critical. BOSETU vice president, Mogomotsi Motshegwa said it is very clear that the government is deliberately on a mission to make almost every worker in the public service an essential service cadre. However he said this was against the International Labour Organisation’s statues to which Botswana government is a signatory. “We should not despair but continue to fight for our rights,” said Motshegwa.