FRANCISTOWN: Public sector workers are dismissive of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and government’s gesture to woo workers into a cordial working relationship.
A militant trade unionist, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said in a recent interview that a lot of work has to be done for the BDP-led government to honestly win workers’ confidence.
Motshegwa is Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatals Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) deputy secretary general who was sacked from work after issues of his secondment to the Botswana Land Boards and Local Authorities and Health Workers’ Union (BLLHWU) went wrong. BOFEPUSU is a 100,000 workers strong federation.
The fiery trade unionist cites the last June incident in which the International Labour Organisation (ILO) made findings that Botswana had violated ILO Conventions no 87 on freedom of association and the right to organise. Another ILO Convention cited is 98, which relates to the protection on the right to organise and collective bargaining.
ILO recommended that as a corrective measure, Botswana labour laws should be holistically revised in an attempt to align them to the ratified ILO Conventions. As a country, it was recommended that Botswana should utilise its tripartite arrangement of Government, Business Botswana and trade unions to correct all the wrongs in the labour laws.
The Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale was not ready to bend in any way when in his response to the ILO recommendations indicated that the amendments of labour laws remained the preserve of his ministry.
“Look, Molale’s ministry came up with regressive labour laws indicating that they will determine who chairs the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) and then the secretary will be determined by the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM),” declared Motshegwa, dismissing government gesture to reconcile as hollow.
The government took a decision to cancel the PSBC and pushed for the amendments to the Trade Disputes Act and the Public Service Act, which the party has since reneged on, as a gesture to prove to the workers that they are concerned about their welfare.
Motshegwa insists that the proposed Public Service Act is an attack on workers and a complete deviation from international workers’ standards. He is worried mainly as he observed that the Public Service Act has deliberately killed the Industrial Class cadre that is paid lowly and is not covered under the Pensions Act because of the nature of their wages. He also fumes, “top bureaucrats, permanent secretaries and directors are very arrogant and non-performing. The current government recruitment system is not based on merit and capabilities”.
The ideal situation, he emphasised is where competency and merit are the pre-requisites for employment. All in all, Motshegwa does not see any improvement on working relations with the BDP-led government, but rather he sees posturing meant to raise false hope.
Government has also been challenged to come up with policies that are workers friendly. He also called for the democratisation of the workplace with workers allowed to partake in a meaningful way on issues of budget for instance.
“As long as Minister Molale and PSP (Permanent Secretary to the President) Carter Morupisi occupy their respective offices, it will be farfetched to expect a cordial relationship between workers and the government,” he says, adding that participatory democracy allows for people to be given a platform to contribute their voice freely and meaningfully.
Quizzed about the worries of workers and particularly the purported regressiveness of the country’s labour laws, PSP Morupisi who is currently on an official trip outside the country, was adamant that the conditions of employment for public servants keep on improving over the years. He however, referred further enquiries to the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) director, Ruth Maphorisa to further elaborate. Efforts to contact Maphorisa were futile at press time as her mobile number was incessantly unavailable.
As for the ruling BDP, it will seemingly not stop at anything in its endeavours to woo public sector trade unions to its side. The party is engaging in desperate measures to win the hearts and minds of trade unions after many years of sour relations.
The BDP started off by flighting advertisements in the local newspapers wishing them (trade unions) well in their anniversary celebrations. This is a costly exercise that the BDP seems destined to venture in no matter how expensive it could be.
BDP secretary general Mpho Balopi recently found himself battling to explain himself to the media during his party’s monthly press conference why this newfound relationship.
BDP chairperson for communications and international relations, Fish Pabalinga recently attracted criticism from the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) after suggesting that it was trade unions that were infact seeking a working relationship with the BDP. BOPEU secretary general Topias Marenga whose union has about 34,000 members accused the BDP of simply engaging in a fishing expedition, as they did not have a working relationship with the ruling party.
In an earlier interview, Molale acknowledged that some sections of workers’ trade unions in the public service have vowed to de-campaign him blaming the soured relations with his office. The accusations did not seem to deter him as rather, he determinedly soldiered on.