How BURS lost the bid to block the strike

BURS employees after court proceedings.Pic.Kagiso Onkatswitse
BURS employees after court proceedings.Pic.Kagiso Onkatswitse

The Industrial Court Judge Isaac Bahuma has given members of the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) permission to proceed with the industrial action against the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS).

BURS had approached the court on an urgent basis yesterday to stop the looming action.

Appearing before Bahuma, the BURS senior legal officer Bame Tumiso submitted that they approached the court to interdict the union’s impending strike.

She said sometime in April, the applicant approached the respondent seeking to increase salaries of BURS employees by six percent.

Tumiso said the union did not agree to the increment proposed by BURS and the matter was referred to the Commissioner of Labour on July 2. On July 17, BOPEU received the notification of intention to strike from the Commissioner of Labour. “In terms of Section 39 as read with Section 40 of the Trade Dispute Act the only point in time upon to strike is after 30 days of expiry of the notification of intention to strike,” submitted Tumiso.

She pointed out that the Commissioner has issued a certificate of failure to resolve the dispute.

At this juncture Bahuma asked Tumiso what would be the purpose of waiting for the expiry of 30 days after the mediator has ruled that there is no chance to resolve the dispute.

“My Lord they have to count 30 days from the time the matter was launched with the Commissioner. There is an existing precedence supporting our submission,” responded Tumiso.

She said if an unprotected strike were to take place, Botswana would be under security risk. “What about if the respondent says that that it is water under the bridge because the applicant has engaged in a fora of drawing strike rules?” asked Bahuma.

In response Tumiso said: “It is exercising a procedure required under the Trade Dispute Act. The Act does not preclude us from developing the rules”.

The judge was not convinced. “That conduct suggests that you have gone past 30 days?” He also wondered what BURS was waiting for since the mediator had said there was no prospect of settlement between parties. “To me it means that you have a patient you are taking care of but you are busy participating in digging his grave,” said Bahuma. In response the BURS lawyer said their conduct should not be seen as waiving their entitlements.

Appearing for BOSETU attorney Joseph Akoonyatse submitted that the mediator issued a certificate because he was convinced that the dispute could not be settled.

Akoonyatse said once the mediation has come to an end, the role of the mediator falls away. “He can no longer force parties to a table to negotiate. The parties have agreed on all aspects except on the issue of the provision of minimum service,” said Akoonyatse.

He agreed that the operations of the applicant would be affected and that is what the union wanted. “If a union wishes to strike they should be allowed to strike. They are ready to strike,” submitted Akoonyatse.

Bahuma did not make an order on costs, and said full judgment would follow at a later date.

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