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BOFEPUSU moves to block 3% salary hike

Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has filed an application with the High Court seeking a review and setting aside of the decision taken by Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) to unilaterally increase the salaries of public officers employed in terms of the Public Service Act by 3 percent prior to the conclusion of wage negotiations.

In stating grounds for review Rari writes that the decision to unilaterally increase salaries is a breach of the Government’s duty to bargain in good faith at the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).   He further argues that implementing an increment in respect of non-unionised employees of Government (comprising both managerial and non-management employees) undermines and violates the legislative role of the PSBC.

“Government as an employer and as a member of the PSBC therefore has a duty in terms of the law to conduct itself in good faith as regards conditions of service, which conditions of service must be deliberated upon and discussed at the Council. Salaries as an integral component of employment must be deliberated and discussed at the Council,” he states.

Rari says he is advised that the unilateral decision taken by government is a classic form of bad faith bargaining. The employer party cannot resort to unilateral action as this makes nonsense of the entire bargaining process, says Rari.  He says this remains the case whether or not negotiations are on-going at the PSBC.  

“The Applicant trade unions are members of the PSBC and this means that the government owes them as members a duty to bargain with them in good faith.” Rari further posits that the decision to unilaterally increase salaries makes nonsense of the usefulness and relevance of Applicant trade unions to the entire bargaining process.  

“It certainly gives the impression to the Applicant’s members that they are better off not being members of the Applicants and that they can get better conditions of service without the Applicants (BOFEPUSU)” .

Rari says the PSBC has the sole responsibility of determining terms and conditions in the public service, “and this is especially so because it is registered as a joint industrial council which by definition negotiates terms and conditions of employment for employees in the industry.”

He says in terms of the PSBC constitution, all members of the public service (except the disciplined forces) fall within its scope of reach. He states that it matters not whether or not the employee is unionised or non-unionised; all outcomes and resolutions at the Council affect the entire public service.

“Non-unionised employees will comprise both managerial and non-management employees as both managerial and non-management employees are all employees of the public service. The PSA does not exclude members of management from the scope of operation of the PSA. As long as the employee is governed by the PSA, such an employee is a member of the public service and falls within the scope of reach of the PSBC.”

BOFEPUSU says on 11th March 2016, government’s intention to implement salary increases for non-unionised public officers falling within the scope of the Council to the exclusion of other public officers, was brought to their attention by a source within government. Through their Attorneys on 14th March 2016 they sought a written undertaking that government will not unilaterally implement a salary increase for non-unionised public officers for the year 2016/17 until the lawfulness thereof had been established. Rari explains that government did not respond to the notice.  

While Rari had been “reliably informed” that government had been advised that payroll system will be unable to differentiate between non-unionised employees and unionised employees for purposes of an increment which made him conclude that there would be no unilateral increment, he was shocked on 31 March 2016 when he received a Directive dated 30 March 2016 authored by DPSM, Ms Ruth Maphorisa, announcing a unilateral salary increment for all public officers, of 3 %.

Rari said the Directive shocked him because they have for the last several years negotiated salary increases through the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). “Last year we were able to achieve a 6 % increase following extensive negotiations,” he says in his affidavit.  

Rari argues that the decision to proceed with a unilateral increment is undoubtedly a breach of the duty to bargain in good faith. He states that government ought to have returned to the PSBC following the noting of appeal. “Even if one assumes that the PSBC was dysfunctional, its dysfunctionality or non-existence did not negate government’s obligations to bargain at the workplace on an individual basis with the unions that fall under BOFEPUSU,” writes Rari.

According to BOFEPUSU secretary general, whether there is PSBC or not, their members will always have a right in law to bargain collectively for their members as long as they remain recognised and do not breach resolutions of the PSBC. “Any unilateral changes to the remuneration of public officers falling within the scope of the PSBC is thus unlawful,” he says.  

PSBC was ready to start verification of members

Meanwhile the PSBC was ready to kickstart the membership verification process for recognised unions to prepare for salary negotiations. The General Secretary of the PSBC Mr Patla Ulaula had written to recognised unions in reference to the Court of Appeal ruling of 17th June 2016. He stated that the Council had been instructed to conduct a determination of union membership figures. He further wrote that they were still studying the judgement with the view to ensure that its contents are sufficiently internalised and effectively implemented.

Ulaula appreciated that the Court of Appeal has not specified any timeframe for the verification process, but he stated that it is a consuming and engaging process that requires more time and human resource efforts and there is need to be diligent and pay attention to detail. He also communicated that they will be done with their internal processes by around July 5th and should be in a position to invite unions to submit their packages by around July 8th.

But following the BOFEPUSU application before the court seeking a review of the decision to unilaterally implement a 3 percent salary increase, PSBC may be forced to revise its dates because the court process will also take a bit of time. Public servants will once again have to give the courts time to deal matters of law before actual bargaining starts.

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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).

Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model.  BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.

“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.

Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.

Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board.  However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.

He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.

“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).

“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.

“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.

Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.

“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.

“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.

WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs.  High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.

The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.

“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.

“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.

Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.

“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.

The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.

“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.

BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.

“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.

Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.

In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.

“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.

The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.

“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”

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