The Industrial Court of Botswana has ruled in favour of the Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) in their legal battle against the Ministry of Health.
The court ordered the withdrawal of an advertisement for 12 vacancies of Principal Nursing Officer I-D2 (Temporary), which had sparked controversy due to its preference for retired nurses. The victory is seen as a significant triumph for BONU and a milestone in the ongoing struggle for fair employment practices within the nursing profession.
The legal dispute was initiated by BONU, represented by Rantao Attorneys, through an urgent application filed at the Industrial Court on May 15. BONU contested the decision made by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health to advertise the vacancies, arguing that it violated the Public Service Act and various regulations governing appointment criteria and merit-based selection processes.
Stating its case, BONU said on or about March 29, the ministry, through a televised interview on Botswana Television (Btv), made pronouncements regarding the re-employment of retired nurses as nursing coaches and mentors.
“Following the televised interview, on or about the 26th of April 2023, an advertisement was published in the Botswana Gazette Newspaper inviting applicants to apply for 12 vacancies of Principal Nursing Officer I-D2 (Temporary) in the Ministry of Health, Department of Health Services Management. The advertisement stated, amongst other things, that: applications are invited from suitably qualified nurses/midwives (preferably retired); there were 12 vacancies tenable at Princess Marina Hospital five), Nyangwabgwe Referral Hospital (five) and S’brana Hospital (two); the salary will be at D2 salary scale; the benefits are severance pay and baggage allowance payable at the end of the temporary appointment, and, payment of 30% nurses’ overtime allowance and 10% post basic allowance; the qualifications for the post are: Degree in Nursing/Midwifery; Masters in Nursing/Midwifery would be an added advantage; post basic Diploma or Degree in Psychiatric Nursing; the experience required for the post is a minimum of 15 years post qualification,” BONU stated.
Central to BONU's case was the contention that the preference for retired nurses, as outlined in the advertisement, was in breach of section 17 of the Public Service Act. According to this provision, appointment criteria should be based on proven merit and suitability rather than retirement status. BONU also argued that the advertisement failed to fulfil the requirement of publication in the Government Gazette, as mandated by section 17 of the Act.
In the court order issued on May 17, Justice Diratsagae Molomo declared the draft order presented by BONU as an official order of the court. Consequently, the advertisement for the twelve vacancies, published on 26th April 2023, was ordered to be withdrawn. The court emphasised that the parties involved should engage in discussions as per their Collective Labour Agreement, fostering a cooperative approach towards resolving the matter.
This legal victory marks a significant achievement for BONU and its members, who have been vocal advocates for fair and transparent employment practices within the nursing profession. By challenging the preference for retired nurses, BONU leadership said it has reaffirmed the importance of merit-based selection processes in ensuring equal opportunities for all qualified candidates. They sent communication to members stating that the ruling sends a powerful message to the Ministry of Health and other institutions, emphasising the need to adhere to the principles of fairness and equality in their recruitment practices.
“Furthermore, the court's decision aligns with the theme of this year's International Nurses Day, 'Our Nurses, Our Future'. The global campaign, promoted by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) aims to address global health challenges and achieve better global health for all. BONU's success, in this case, demonstrates its commitment to building a sustainable future for the nursing profession in Botswana,” Shana Mogorosi of BONU said.