'You're sitting on powder keg'- workers warn BDP

Public Sector workers want to punish the ruling party PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE
Public Sector workers want to punish the ruling party PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE

FRANCISTOWN: Employees affiliated to the Six Cooperating Trade Unions (6CTU) have warned the BDP to treat their salary negotiations with utmost respect as failure to would result in consequences.

The employees issued the warning at a highly-charged meeting outside the Civic Centre Hall before the President Day’ Holidays.

The meeting was attended by the 6CTU from Botswana Public Employees Union, Botswana Sector of Educators and Trade Union, Botswana Teacher Union, Botswana Nurses Union, Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Unions and National Amalgamated Local, Central Government and Parastatals Workers Unions.

The leaders had convened the meeting to brief their members about progress on negotiations with the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM). They also solicited for opinions from members on the way forward following the recommendations of the Performance Management Delivery And Unit (PEMANDU) report.

PEMANDU Associates was engaged by government to re-look at the public sector transformation, business turnaround and communications.

On other matters, the meeting degenerated into a teacup storm after the 6CTU coordinator, Tobokani Rari charged that government was dillydallying to conclude negotiations of conditions of service for public servants.

Rari had earlier told the gathering that initial expectations were that negotiations would be concluded before the end of June as promised by President Mokgweetsi Masisi during the May Day celebrations.

Giving an analogy of how the negotiations between BOFEPUSU and DPSM ended up not progressing, Rari had also told the gathering that despite concerted efforts by the labour movement to conclude the negotiations, DPSM was not coming to the party but was postponing the negotiations even further.

Rari, however said that they expected another 6CTU leader Mogomotsi Motshegwa to thereafter inform the gathering that they was light at the end of the tunnel.

Motshegwa said that they had received communication from the DPSM to the effect that negotiations on conditions of service for civil servants would resume on July 27. The reason was that te arbitrator of the negotiations was currently not available but would available then.

“Our message to you today (July 11) is that the negotiations would resume although belatedly on account of the employer. I know that some of you are apprehensive that we may be the ones who are delaying the negotiations to be concluded. However, the truth of the matter is that DPSM is the one that has been delaying the negotiations to be brought to their just and logical conclusion,” said Motshegwa.

He added: “We are here to ask you to holistically discuss what Rari had earlier on told you then give us the way forward. What is however disheartening is the fact that salaries of the security forces have been increased while ours are still stagnant. You are the ones who can disentangle ourselves from the shackles that are binding us.”

Contrary to what Motshegwa said, the government has reiterated its position that negotiations for conditions of service for members of the security services were started and completed way back.

One Mboni castigated the state for what he termed “government’s lackadaisical attitude to complete the negotiations of service for civil servants”.

Mboni called on members of BOFEPUSU to strike.

“In 2011, we took a decision to strike because government was not listening to genuine calls for salary negotiations. Comrades, the October general elections are just around the corner. We can show government that we are however not afraid to strike if she does not accede to our genuine calls for salary increment. Although, I am a pastor I am ready to lead you to Chedu Choga grounds again,” said Mboni to a big round of applause.

Chedu Choga is a football pitch in Block 1 where workers congregated during the mother of all strikes in 2011.

Another speaker said that they thought that the ascendance of Masisi to the presidency would usher in a new dawn of good working relations between unions and government but their wish was just misplaced.

“The current regime is not different from the Ian Khama regime. Masisi should not take us for granted. Let us go back to Chedu Choga if the push comes to the shove,” he said amidst whistling and chants.

A teacher who also commented said that they were faced with a delicate issue but their destination was in their own hands. She urged her colleagues to know their rights if they wanted to win their labour war with government.

A worker from the Central Transport Organisation Otlaadisa Moganda posited that if government was slow to listen to their cries, they should also adopt an eye-for-an-eye position.

“Some of us a very quick to help with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) with registering voters and during the elections. We should refuse to help the IEC in electoral matters as a form of retaliation. We should be united and not divided if we want to win our labour battles against the state,” he said.

Another employees, Kabo Keitheng, boldly stated that if unions wantedgovernment to take them seriously, they should without any hesitation vote for the opposition.

“We should do away with our fears of what would happen if we strike and all take part in mass demonstrations. Nobody should remain behind,” he said.

An employee from Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital (NRH) said that workers were treating government with kid gloves while the state was not returning the same favour. He therefore made a clarion call to employees to change tact and be ruthless in their approach with government.

“Government is vulnerable because the elections are just around the corner. We should be using elections as bait to arm twist the government during our negotiations for better working conditions,” he said.

Noko Motlhatlhedi also reiterated what earlier speakers said.

Motlhatlhedi said that striking was the best tool to force government to return to the negotiations table and negotiate in good faith.

She said since October is near, the government would tread carefully and not fire workers from their jobs.

“We should emulate what our comrades in neighbouring countries are doing. Let us take action now. Nobody has the luxury to fire many people from their jobs when the elections are just near,” she said. At the end of the tempestuous meeting, Motshegwa said that negotiations were a give-and-take process that should be pursued procedurally.

He advised that even though the DPSM was negotiating with unions in bad faith, it was vital for unions to follow the negotiations procedurally and not jump the gun, so that it would be easy to track who between the negotiating parties was deliberating doing things in good faith or not.

“We come from a long way back with government. We know very well whom we are dealing with… We are returning to Gaborone but next week we would be in a position to inform you of how far we are with plans to hold countrywide demonstrations if that is what the majority of you want. The union leadership would be fully behind you in everything that you want,” said Motshegwa.

After Motshegwa concluded his address to the employees, he asked them to raise their hands if they were in support of mass demonstrations across the country.

The majority of workers raised their hands in support of mass demonstrations.  Motshegwa then added: “We should be united in everything we do otherwise we will fail. We should do everything for the benefit of future generations.”

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