Financially-troubled Air Botswana (AB) will have to dig deep into its already depleted pockets to increase its employees’ low wages. The troubled national air carrier has been in a back and forth legal battle with its employees who complained about low wages as compared to their counterparts in the other parastatal organisations.
Following talks between management and the employees’ union, an agreement was reached on January 8, 2016 to close the salary structure gap of the airline before back tracking on the agreement. This resulted in the employees taking legal steps to force the airline to honour the agreement and recently the Court of Appeal (CoA) resolved the matter.
Acting Judge of the CoA, Mercy Garekwe ordered that the airline should honour their agreement and close the 27% gap.
Justice Garekwe explained that the airline’s argument based on the assumption or its belief that the 27% referenced in the agreement was different from all organisations' median could not stick as they failed to produce an audit report.
“This argument seeks to simplify and confuse what the basis of the 27% was or emanated from. The consultants who were engaged by the airline were paying lower than other parastatals below the median of all organisations' market. This is noted as one of the findings by the Auditor-General,” the judge said.
Justice Garekwe pointed out that the auditor understood the basis of the 27% hence his reference and placing reliance on the same to do his calculations and which was the same understanding the airline has stated by its legal service officer in their papers.
She said for Air Botswana to now seek to change goalposts, contradicting itself in the process, could only point to a lack of understanding.
“The High Court made an order for an audit to be undertaken. The airline was expected to participate in the audit exercise and if they did not participate in the exercise, it can only have itself to blame. It's not the lower court’s fault to endorse the only audit report placed before it,” she said.
Subsequently, the airline would have to pay the employees the agreed amount and also backdate the payments as far as October 2015.
Meanwhile, facts indicate that the airport transport company and its employees have been having disagreements over low wages as compared to other parastatals.
According to the employees, the management and the Botswana Employees Union had over a period of time engaged over low wages, discussions that led to the commissioning of the consultancy to review and produce a report on the competitiveness and remuneration in the company.
“The report was subsequently approved by the Air Botswana’s Board of Directors in 2014. The approval was followed by further negotiations between the two parties which culminated in a written agreement executed on January 14, 2016, which included the implementation of closing the salary structure gap of the airline as approved by management,” reads the papers.
However, following the written agreement which was binding, the airline did not pay as agreed and confirmed such non-payment when the union chairperson enquired on February 29, 2016.
According to the national airline carrier, the sole reason advanced was that the condition precedent for payment mainly staff appraisals had not been completed.
Mboki Chilisa represented AB, while Duma Boko represented the employees.