I recently read in a local newspaper where a comrade from BOSETU was challenging BFTU and BOFEPUSU to unite and form one federation of unions in Botswana. According to him this is the most logical thing to do in the interest of Botswana workers. All I can say is this comrade is very progressive and we need more leaders like him.
What is interesting, however, is that in that same article an official from BOFEPUSU chided the gentleman and called him undisciplined. He also said there is no federation that can affiliate to another federation, although I don’t think that is what the BOSETU comrade was saying. His point was simply that we need one federation in Botswana and not two and that the existing ones should work towards achieving that. This view is shared by, amongst others, BOPEU who have come out strongly to support unification of trade unions in Botswana. This is a view that BFTU has carried and still does strongly advocate for.
There is a view that I have heard being propagated by some BOFEPUSU leadership, that of BFTU and BOFEPUSU forming a confederation. This view is informed by another view mentioned above, that two federations cannot form a federation. I wish to address these two issues to try and bring understanding on the subject matter.
First let us answer the question whether two federations can unite and form one federation. In my reading of the Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act (TUEOA) as amended there is no indication whatsoever that uniting two federations into one is prohibited. Section 45 of the Act provides for the amalgamation of trade unions. Although the section is silent on amalgamation of federations it is my considered view that it is not prohibited. But even if we do not explore the amalgamation of federations route there are other means that can be followed to have one federation. For example the existing federations can be dissolved and all their affiliates form a new federation or one of them can be dissolved and its members affiliated into the other federation. The key issue is whether respective players are genuine in achieving unity and not the impossibility to do so.
In other countries such as Japan we have federations that actually affiliate to other federations. In Japan you have workplace unions that affiliate to sectoral or industrial federations, which in turn affiliated to the national trade union federation RENGO.
The second issue to deal with has to do with whether BFTU and BOFEPUSU can form a confederation of trade unions. To answer this I first deal with the current trade union configuration from national level through to global level. Individual trade unions are formed at workplace, sectoral, industrial or national (general unions) levels. These individual unions can federate to form national federations such as BFTU, ZCTU, COSATU etc. The current trade union configuration at national level terminates at federation level even though some of these federations can be called confederations by name. Having a confederation of trade unions at national level will not be in-line with the configuration of the current trade union formations. I also want to raise the legal difficulty of forming a confederation of trade unions in Botswana. The TUEOA only recognises two forms of worker organisations; trade unions and federations of trade unions. There is no provision for the formation or registration of a confederation of trade unions leaving us with the only option of a federation.
Thirdly, there is the issue of financing such an organisation which will be expensive for workers who will have to pay three different trade unions. Coupled with this is the issue of scope of representation.
It is my considered opinion that the need for unity of trade unions in Botswana into a single and robust federation of trade unions cannot be overemphasised. There is no basis for polarisation and such unity is possible.
*Gadzani Mhotsha is the BFTU Secretary General and he is writing in his personal capacity.