Tribute to staff association leaders of yester-year

Up in arms: BOFEPUSU members during the 2011 public service strike
Up in arms: BOFEPUSU members during the 2011 public service strike

I have a dream, a dream to see workers of this country liberalised.

A dream of seeing their conditions of service improved, and a dream of seeing Public Service employees desisting from oppressing each other and oppressing themselves. Indeed, I have a dream of ensuring that the exploitation of union members by their leaders come to an end.

I believe this is the dream of visionary leaders and the new class consciousness movement.

Having joined the public service as far back as  April 3, 1989, I can attest that staff association leaders of yester year were proactive and had the welfare of their members at heart.

They adequately addressed issues that concerned salaries and conditions of employment. In the past, the civil service of Botswana was made up of two main authorities, the Central Government at National level, and the Local Government at Local or District level.

During those times, civil servants were not allowed to form unions of their choice, neither were they allowed to bargain with the employer as is the case today.

However, a lot was achieved by staff associations if we were to compare them with the new class generation of public employees whose employment right is legalized in various legislations that underpin labor relations in Botswana.

In the past, the voices of civil servants were heard by the employer. During staff associations’ conferences, governing councils and congress delegates presented motions for consideration and adoption, and for subsequent presentation to the government. As a result of such strategic focus of the civil servants and visionary leadership of yester-year, the employer regularly considered workers’ conditions of service for improvement.

Critical to state is that, where government ignored the recommendations of Presidential commissions and court orders, staff associations were able to act individually and collectively to exert pressure on the government to ensure full compliance.


Civil servants’ discontent

Strikes in Botswana, in particular in the public service, are a new phenomenon since there has always been a cordial working relationship between the workers and the State.

Since the country attained Independence in 1966, there has been a degree of cooperation and equal recognition of all parties, however, there has been signs of dissatisfaction, which have manifested themselves in the form of protest actions.

Conflict is a reality in all relationships, including in government, but what matters most is how employers respond to the existence of such conflict at the workplace, and how the conflict can be managed.


The first strike

Although there is nothing documented to ascertain this, there are allegations that the first strike in the civil service  was in 1968 declared by Industrial Class Employees of the then PWD (Public Works Department) sparked by racial discrimination, and that the workers were not allowed to organise and form Trade Unions. In 1991, the only recognised trade union in the civil service by then, Manual Workers Union, which represents manual workers employed by the Central and local Government and Parastatal engaged in negotiations with the employer for wage increase, which resulted in a National Strike, which effected on the  November 4 to November  8, 1991.

 At the centre of the strike was a demand for 154% salary increase (minimum wage of P600).

There was some dissatisfaction amongst the workers following the outcome of the Presidential Commission Report of the Job Evaluation Exercise of 1987/88, and as a result, primary school teachers broke away from Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) to form what was known as Job Evaluation Unsatisfied Teachers (JEUT) in order to address their discontent.

Protests by staff associations

The first protest action was on September 25 to September  27, 2002, declared by Botswana Federation of Secondary Teachers (BOFESETE) now Botswana Teachers Union (BOSETU).

There were various reasons for such unusual protest action, amongst them; accusations directed to the then minister of Education and the Permanent Secretary of belated implementation of separate pay structure in compliance with recommendation of Tsa Badiri consultancy report of 2001; growing insensitiveness of government and the ministry of education to meet teachers’ demands of fairness and equal opportunity in employment; calls for the minister and his Permanent Secretary to resign since they were incompetent and applying double standards.

From the Historic perspective of declared Industrial strikes and protest actions in the civil service by Staff Associations which has now transformed into Trade Unions, cognisance should be given to the fact that, there is nothing on record which shows that Botswana Civil Servants Association (BCSA), now Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), known as the union of choice for public sector employees has never at any material time declared a strike or protest action and/or be against government administrative decision that oppresses its own members.

I am adamant and/or optimistic that, history will tell and judge BOPEU in due course, and surely ordinary members and the public will have answers as to why the labor union has never protested government decisions? What is the secret behind this undying relationship between the union and government of the day?


 Over-view of protest actions

There were undeniable facts that, declared protest actions by labor movement as mentioned above were real and a just cause, such crippling strike actions were meant to exert pressure on the government to implement the recommendations of Presidential Commissions and court orders, which otherwise government would have not acceded to

I assume and suspect that, the employer at that time was a source of dissatisfactions and conflict due to its administrative short-falls, irregularities and failure to comply with the court orders.

The question is, has the government changed, is there a born again government today?

 My humble advise to union leaders is that, they must change their mindset and realise the fact that their core mandate is to sufficiently represent the workers and in particular the working class.

Pursuance of their union-managed investments is not their core business and as a result they must desist from exploiting their own members by promoting credit guarantee schemes and funeral covers more than anything else, if they really care and love their members.


*Patle is an unionist based in Gaborone.

The views and comments of the author are not of any union, federation or institution with which he may be a member.


[email protected] or call 3996548/54(w)

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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