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DPSM, civil servants lock horns on COVID-19 risk allowance

TSAONE BASIMANEBOTLHE
In the fold: Only three categories of workers are receiving the Covid-19 risk allowance PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Civil service unions are putting pressure on their employer to provide a risk allowance for frontline workers engaged in the fight against COVID-19, with increasingly heated letters flying between the two parties.

The two sides are divided over the definition of ‘frontline worker’ with the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) arguing that these are workers also classified as ‘essential service’ whose absence could result in loss of life or danger to the public from COVID-19.

Unions, on the other hand, say frontline workers include everyone from ambulance, theatre, intensive care services, hospital and ward services to those working in kitchens, hospital laundry, potable water services, waste water management, scientific services, counselling and many others.

At present, the risk allowance is reportedly being paid to workers at quarantine centres, border posts and Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital, which is the national referral centre for COVID-19.

Presenting before Parliament’s Public Committee on the Public Service and its Management, Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) president, Obonolo Rahube said there were rising numbers of frontline workers getting infected by the virus, but for the employer “it is business as usual”.

“Personal Protective Equipment is not enough and this is putting BONU members and other frontline workers at risk,” he told MPs.

“The employer party is silent and negotiating in bad faith on the issue of risk allowance for frontline workers who include nurses.

“The employer was written to on August 15, 2020 but no effective response has been given to BONU since then.”

According to an

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August 10 letter from the DPSM to public sector federation, BOFEPUSU, the employer said the matter of defining ‘frontline workers’ was critical to discussions.

“This serves to inform you that our preliminary consultation with our internal stakeholders has revealed that the Task Force report is short of a proper and unambiguous definition of ‘frontline workers’ in the context of the public service of Botswana, as read with other definitions by either the World Health Organisation or the International Labour Organisation.

“For instance, is our definition making a distinction between a health worker who is directly involved with COVID-19 probable cases, from other workers? Especially in the health sector, save for those working in border posts on regular basis, quarantines and Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital,” reads the letter signed by DPSM director, Goitseone Mosalakatane.

The director said other ‘pertinent issues’ raised by the unions were ‘purely administrative’ and would be addressed accordingly.

On Wednesday, when appearing before the Parliamentary Committee, Mosalakatane said the issue of the risk allowance is a work in progress.

“The biggest challenge is that relevant authorities, including the recognised unions, are still in negotiations,” Mosalakatane said.

MP for Bonnington South, Christian Greef stressed that it was important for trade unions and DPSM to sit and resolve the matter amicably to avoid unnecessary complications.



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