It has become apparent that the marriage of convenience between Botswana Public Employees Union(BOPEU), the self-proclaimed largest union in the public sector under the leadership of comrade Andrew Motsamai, and its mother body; Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions(BOFEPUSU) under the leadership of comrade Johannes Tshukudu, has come to an end.
It was recently reported in the private media that the relationship has reached a boiling point with BOPEU stopping its subscription to BOFEPUSU. It is also alleged that such adverse administrative decision came as a result of the federation leadership decision to increase union’s subscription fee per member by P2.00, but BOPEU insisted on first consulting with its members on the matter.
The latest development, which I believe is timely and welcome is that BOFEPUSU has acquired the status and recognition of the second national federation by international standard.
This gives the BOFEPUSU the right to participate in national and international fora such as International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference and the tripartite structures with government without going through the auspices of Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), which BOPEU is affiliated to.
There are many questions than answers as to what the future holds for BOPEU members and/or as to how the union leadership’s decision to withdraw subscription fee will impact on the rights of the union members and the union, as it is a public service union?
To date, it is not clear if BOPEU leadership consulted the union’s structures and members before walking out on BOFEPUSU.
Most notable, BOPEU has with effect from September 1, 2015 increased member subscription from P57.40 to a maximum of P100, an increase of P42.60. It is therefore not clear as to how a mere increase of P2.00 per member would have a negative impact on the union’s clean balance sheet and its massive wealth.
The logical question that an ordinary union member and lay person like me may ask BOPEU leadership is whether the decision to increase substantially your members’ subscription, was authorised or sanctioned by competent union structures and/or members through consultation first?
The unfolding events suggest that BOPEU is likely to stand alone at the forthcoming Collective Bargaining. The union leadership has embarked on a country-wide road campaign to increase its current membership in order to meet the set threshold.
The other possible strategy is that BOPEU is likely to establish a coalition with non-admitted trade unions and it is rumoured to be negotiating with Botswana Nurses Union and other minority unions to work together and pursue article 7. 2 and amalgamate under one name for admission into the council.
During the 2015/16 salary negotiations, speculation was rife that BOPEU and BTU were considering a break-away from BOFEPUSU because they were both seen as being sympathetic to government.
It is also alleged that the leadership of BOPEU and BTU have been negotiating a deal to work with non-admitted trade unions at PSBC during the 2016/17 negotiations.
In terms of article 6.1.1 of the Constitution of Public Service Bargaining Council, as read with article 6.1, for a trade union to be admitted into the council it shall represent at least one-third of the membership of all recognised trade unions whose members are public officers in terms of the Public Service Act, 2008.
Workers in Botswana face serious challenges and the enemy of a public employee is a power hungry leader. I have to reiterate my position, which appeared in the Mmegi of September 5, 2014 (Volume 31, No: 133) in which I said that BOPEU has a constitution that governs the conduct of its national executive committee (NEC) and the membership. It is therefore the union policy formulation and decision making process that resides in the hands of its members and the administrative
Union leaders acquire authority from members being the owners of such organs and by virtue of their voluntary submission to the union constitution.
In exercising their administrative prerogative or functions, the administrative arm must confine itself to the union’s constitution, resolution of the general membership and as well as the mandate of BOPEU which is to protect, maintain and guide members in strategic planning and proper decision making and not otherwise.
In this era, strategic focus of the union leadership, which has the well-being, aspirations and interests of members at heart is to unite the workers and not to divide them.
Any trade union and/or its leadership which opposes the ideology of uniting the workers or pull out from the envisaged cooperation of public and private sector unions because of self-centered, power hungry and greedy leadership must be declared the worst enemy of the working class of the first order.
Fragmentation of trade unions, rivalry and continued divisions is unwarranted and uncalled for, and as a result must be condemned with strong possible terms by visionary unionists and the community in general.
Most unions, the world over, are structured on the principles that promote democratic decision making so as to ensure that the needs and aspirations of members and not union leaders are reflected in decisions that are taken.
The question is, is the withdrawal of BOPEU subscription and membership from BOFEPUSU really reflecting the need and aspirations of the general membership?
As union leaders become entrenched in their comfort position, they forget that they were elected by members; and, as a result they become monsters and too arrogant to the extent that they don’t tolerate objective criticism, hence become sympathetic with bootlickers.
The benefits of a National Federation
Federations generally play a significant role in the society and the major motive of forming a federation ranges from providing a forum for collective bargaining as it has been the case with BOFEPUSU, but that also help in the creation of a national umbrella federation similar to the current status and recognition acquired. A national body or federation has the legal right to coordinate political and economic policy at national level.
BOFEPUSU will now participate freely in socio-political policy formulation and development of labour legislation and the promotion of labour rights in Botswana. Other organisational rights that the national federation will enjoy will include its recognition and participation in the tripartite structures, whilst on the other hand will be availed to provide a variety of services to its affiliate members such as legal assistance, educational support and other various benefit schemes to ordinary members such as discount benefits and shares etc.
It is imperative for the national umbrella federations to start working together in their endeavours to improve the working conditions of employees gradually and not through a revolutionary process like Karl Marx contended.
Negotiations is not all about an increase in wages; it also encompasses advocating for change in employment policies and labour legislation, including the constitution of the country to be in conformity with international standards and practices.
I therefore urge my fellow comrades in struggle to consider signing a smart partnership agreement and work together in driving their organisations’ core mandate of liberalising the working class and sufficiently represent members of the affiliated trade union members.
Time has arrived for union leaders and members to speak with one voice so that their voice can be heard by employers.