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Government can’t win against workers!

Publishing Date : 27 February, 2017

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH


Reports that government has resolved to terminate the secondments of trade union officials who, in terms of the collective labour agreements between trade unions and government, have been seconded to run trade union offices are a cause for concern.


The same applies to government’s decision to dismiss the trade union leaders it regards as pro-Opposition and anti-government. This is especially so in this day and era when respect for trade unions and workers’ rights are essential tenets of democracy.


It is troubling that we, despite being acclaimed internationally as a beacon of democracy, have leaders, in both cabinet and Parliament, who are so intolerant to dissent and alternative views that they go to the extent of stooping as low as plotting the demise of those who disagree with them.


The former president of Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Japhta Radibe, was sent into early retirement. The Secretary General for Botswana Land Board & Local Authorities & Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) who is also the Deputy Secretary General for Botswana Federation of Public & Private Sector Unions (BOFEPPUSU), Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, was dismissed from work.


The BOFEPPUSU president who is also BTU president, Johannes Tshukudu, had to resort to the High Court to stop his malicious transfer from his lifetime job of being a Lecturer to an Administrator at the Ministry of Transport & Communications.


Today there are reports that government has plans to dismiss the Secretary General of BOFEPPUSU who is also the Secretary General for Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU), Tobokani Rari, simply because he is one of the leaders of the workers’ efforts to liberate themselves from the yoke of oppression by Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM).


Despite making immense contribution to our country’s development, trade union leaders are never given national recognition. How many trade union leaders have been appointed as nominated councillors or Specially Elected Members of Parliament, Ambassadors, e.t.c?


How many trade union leaders have been appointed as members of national committees or task forces, for instance the Vision the 2036 Task Force? How many have been given national awards? Even during the 50th Anniversary of Independence celebrations trade union leaders were not recognized.


Can anyone honestly claim that such renowned trade unionists as Amalgamated Local Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union’s Johnson Motshwarakgole are not worthy of national recognition? Is the work they have done in the emancipation of thousands of workers not worth recognition and celebration?  


It is disconcerting for a cabinet minister, for example, to be quoted, albeit anonymously, saying “... the problem with some of BOFEPPUSU leaders is that they have forgotten that they are employed by the government of the day and they have a tendency of discrediting us ...2019 is going to be a tough election for us and for us to win the election without a hassle we have to do something about these guys who are pushing the opposition agenda in the name of workers’ welfare.”


It is equally disconcerting that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Chief Whip, Liakat Kablay, was quoted as saying “ ... Now they are into politics yet they should advocate for the welfare of their members...” When a cabinet minister says ‘... we have to do something about these guys...’ what does it mean? Does n’t it mean the dismissals and recalls from secondment we have heared about? Does it mean worse? We hope it does not.  


Are such issues as salary increments and overtime allowances which BOFEPPUSU, for example, has been leading partisan politics? Are they not about the welfare of the workers who are members of public sector trade unions?  


Should trade union leaders betray their members by failing to condemn government when it errs simply because they are government employees?  What is the essence of trade unionism? Is n’t it about defending the workers from such intransigent employers as DPSM without fear or favour?


When trade union leaders talk against such ills as low wages, lack of progression and poor working conditions are they discrediting the government or they want government to make improvements to public servants’ lives? How can a call for the improvement of a peoples’ live be regarded as partisan politics?


Granted, some trade union leaders occasionally stray into the political arena, but that can be addressed through disciplinary proceedings, if warranted, rather than vindictive action which is aimed not at rehabilitating the individual, but at destroying the individual and trade unionism in general.


This government has made several attempts at undermining trade unionism and workers’ rights generally. Its efforts to stop the secondment of trade union officials; cease making deductions other than trade union subscriptions from members’ salaries as well stopping such benefits as provision of office space and transportation to some trade unions have been thwarted by the courts.


Following the 2011 public sector strike, government dismissed hundreds of essential service employees. Though that, as was later held by the Court of Appeal, was lawful and promoted the rule of law, it showed government’s mercilessness in dealing with dissent, even under the banner of collective bargaining.


In an effort to diminish the workers’ collective bargaining power through strike action government declared such professions as teaching as an essential service. Little did government know that collective bargaining power is not always in numbers. It is in fact in organization and strategy and tactics.  


The truth is that no matter what government does to suppress trade unionism and workers’ rights it cannot win against workers. It is the workers who will emerge victorious. But for this victory to be even sweeter the workers need to stick together. They need to stay true to the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all.”


It is for this reason that it is disheartening that some trade union leaders are being bought by the BDP, for money and positions of power, to weaken trade unions. But they too cannot succeed in weakening the might of the workers for the workers’ cause is too noble to be distracted by a few individuals no matter how powerful they think they are.

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