I think it is imperative to give a historic background regarding BCSA/BOPEU decision to remain as a neutral labour movement in so far as party politics are concerned.
The firm decision was taken following the former president of Botswana Civil Service Association, Oganne Maroba’s well-thought of speech delivered at BCSA 56th Annual General Conference held on December 7, 1998, at Mater Spei College in Francistown.
In his 10-page speech, Maroba stated that as a matter of principle civil servants should continue to refrain from participation in politics because they are expected to serve the public impartially without political influence.
He further stated that the other notable development is government’s ratification of ILO Convention No: 151, which permits civil servants to unionise. This development, he argued, threatens the existence of BCSA as the only staff representative for civil servants and then called on the delegates to come up with strategies that will make the association more effective with a view to retain members.
The talk about the resolution of the union (BOPEU) is not new as it derived from the said speech wherein it was agreed and resolved that the labour movement will not align itself with any political party. In the run up to the 2014 general elections, I wrote an article which made headlines under the subject heading; labour versus party politics, which appeared in the Mmegi newspaper of September 5, 2014 and brought to the special attention of the union leadership and the masses this standing resolution.
It appears that BOPEU and in particular its current president misunderstood the resolution of ‘not aligning with political party’ to mean opposition party and to give his union a leeway of being aligned to the ruling party. He therefore found it to be in his absolute powers and to be proper to betray the masses and take decisions which have a negative bearing on BOPEU members without their consent or input.
The decision at hand is the withdrawal of BOPEU from BOFEPUSU under the pretext that the federation is aligned to and/or seems to be supportive of the Umbrella for Democratic Change. This decision was not sanctioned by the union members and many of them have reacted angrily to such an adverse decision.
In so far as I know, there is no resolution to the effect that BOPEU should withdraw its membership and subscription from BOFEPUSU, which was either taken at the Kang Governing Council as alleged, at any given time or at the just ended BOPEU elective congress in Palapye.
The truth which has been concealed from the public and BOPEU members is that at the just-ended congress, the matter was not discussed at all. In fact the delegates were not allowed nor given the opportunity to deliberate on the matter and more importantly, most of the delegates from the various branches and regions, including Rotlhe region and 97 delegates from Gaborone, were never given any mandate by the general membership directing for the withdrawal of BOPEU from BOFEPUSU.
The decision taken by the union leadership is both individual and political and there are three main reasons why they took such an unilateral decision adverse to the working class and in particular BOPEU members.
Firstly, the leadership wants BOPEU to pull out of the Bargaining Council and form a coalition with BTU and other minority unions so that they can negotiate terms and conditions of employment outside collective bargaining.
Secondly, it wants BOPEU to be aligned to the ruling party which is in conflict with the labour movement’s long standing resolution of 1998.
Thirdly, BOPEU is struggling to build capitalism at the expense of socialism. Workers and in particular, union members and the society at large, cannot fully understand the actions and policies of the union unless and until they know what elements have gone into its making.
BOPEU is now a company and not a workers’ union
Struggle of the Working Class
I have to remind the leadership of BOPEU that the struggle of the working class deals with the interests of the nation at national level and it is also democratic because it seeks to liberalise the workers from oppression of employers and from economic exploitation by those in power.
Union members at A, B and C salary scales are living in abject poverty and are destitute.
When union members were in serious debts, the Kang Governing Council resolved to increase seating allowances for NOB, NEC and airtime for regional secretaries and treasurers and also to adopt UN per diem rates.
It is a real shame for BOPEU leadership to be pulling the union from the liberalisation struggle which it championed prior to the 2011 National.
The Tripartite Relationship
Although labour laws recognise legitimacy of trade unions in so far as collective bargaining and the tripartite relationship are concerned, BOPEU leadership seems to believe more in consultation and salaries review commissions against collective bargaining, and as a result prefers direct consultation with government outside the bargaining council.
BOPEU leadership no longer struggles for the union’s legitimacy, recognition and/or for any formal consultation with the government as a partner of repute in the socio-economic development and nation building.
There is no doubt that BOPEU continues to enjoy recognition by the government more than any other trade union, as it has always been the case with BCSA, whereby the staff association was represented in the majority of forums that sought to address public service matters.
On March 23, 2015 when public service negotiations on salaries and conditions of service were still on, some members of the union leadership were given special assignments or dispensations which in my view were to make BOPEU function and prosper at the expense of other sister public sector unions.
It was resolved that:
l The union comes up with the terms of reference for the consultancy to look into the review of Public Service Conditions of Service.
l The union comes up with a contractual agreement with respect to salary negotiations and that the same should be in line with the prevailing economic conditions.
l The union comes up with a housing strategy
Divisions/fragmentation of unions
The divisions/fragmentation of the public sector trade unions has a negative bearing in the enjoyment of the benefits of the ratified ILO conventions, articles and recommendations by the workers
I think there is urgent need for awareness and organisational revitalisation with special attention to human resource development and capacity building, so that, union leadership sees the interest of their members beyond micro loans and funeral schemes issues, but play a vital role in the promotion of democracy and good governance for societal good.
I am also of the opinion that there is an urgent need for social reforms with BOPEU in view of the fact that the union president is currently seeking political attention, better fortunes in public administration and his ambition for political office is now out of control.
My sincere advice to majority of the low income groups in various unions and in particular members of BOPEU on A, B and C salary scales, is that they have nothing to lose, but they have everything to gain in pursuing the liberalisation struggle and in joining other unions which are affiliated to BOFEPUSU as a sectorial federation.
*PS: These are personal views and comments of the author and are not of any union, federation or institution in which he may be a member with good standing. Patle is a reformist unionist based in Gaborone City. E-mail: [email protected] or call 3996548/54.
Oaitse Diane Patle*