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BFTU, BOFEPUSU fight over national labour centre status

The composition of union delegates who represented Botswana at the International Labour Conference (ILC) held at Geneva, Switzerland last week has led to further rifts between the two rival unions.

In addition to Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) was also recently recognised as a national labour centre.

The rivalry playing out between the two union federations has however taken its toll in their participation in the tripartite arrangement.

At the ILC, BFTU was engaged as a delegate while BOFEPUSU was involved by government as a companion of BFTU as well as an advisor to government.

As per the tripartite method, the delegation to the ILC should be comprised of two government delegates, one worker delegate and one employer.

In Botswana workers have all along been represented by BFTU as the National Labour Centre while employers by Business Botswana.

BFTU, which was previously the only recognised national labour centre sitting at the ILC categorically stated this week that they are not pleased with government’s decision of including BOFEPUSU in the Geneva expedition.

BFTU Secretary General Gadzani Mhotsha spelled out his concerns to a pack of journalists on Tuesday at Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) offices.

“We later learnt that the office of the Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs has asked BOFEPUSU to submit names of their delegation directly to their office,” Mhotsha laid down his displeasure with the government.

He continued: “we further learnt that government has decided to sponsor one advisor from BOFEPUSU to accompany BFTU. It should be noted that such an advisor was never communicated to BFTU either by government or BOFEPUSU.”

He alluded to the fact that during the whole conference they never got to know or interact with the said advisor or his/her companions.

As such, the BFTU SG noted that the conduct of Botswana government was also contrary to the International Labour Organisations (ILO) procedures and that while BFTU desired to object to the composition of the Botswana delegation, it could not do so before objections could be closed due to logistical issues.

“We want to put it on record that what the government did was to encourage division of workers and thus weaken their strength,” Mhotsha pointed out.

He explained that: “BFTU is not against BOFEPUSU attending the ILC, but government should not be deciding for us who should go to the ILC as a titular delegate and who should be an advisor. It is for this reason that we wrote directly to BOFEPUSU to submit their delegates to BFTU so that we rightly receive them as our advisors.”

According to Mhotsha, their bone of contention is borne from the fact that ILO recognises only one National Labour Centre – which is thus far BFTU, and by trying to bypass that, government is in violation of the principles of ILO.

“If we don’t settle this issue by June, we will take it up with ILO,” he declared.

BFTU president Bohitlhetswe Lentswe also reiterated that currently ILO recognises BFTU as the only party representing unions to go to ILO.

“Government should go back and audit and declare whether BFTU is still the most representative to be named a labour centre,” he highlighted.

While he acknowledged that BOFEPUSU was a mere advisor at the ILC, Lentswe cautioned that “we don’t appoint advisors for government and they should not choose for us.

We failed to go there as a team because of this fracas.”

He clarified that: “we are not saying BOFEPUSU should not go there, but if BFTU remains a labour centre it should appoint their advisors.”  He however conceded that in other countries there are more than one labour centres.

MLHA long recognised BOFEPUSU

BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari has however elucidated that his union was long recognised as another labour centre since August last year.

“I don’t know why the issue confuses a lot of people. As BOFEPUSU we are now a labour centre. Therefore that means there are two labour centres in Botswana, that is BOFEPUSU and BFTU,” he explained.

“With that in mind, we have a right that we can even fight for in court – to sit in the tripartite structure,” Rari told WeekendPost in a separate interview.

According to a letter dated 18 August 2015 from Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs Pearl Ramokoka nee-Matome, which this publication has seen, the government resolved to recognise BOFEPUSU.

The MLHA PS said she is aware that BFTU has been the only organisation (federation) recognised to be representing all workers in the country.

“It is common cause that with the conclusion of court cases involving the registration of BOFEPUSU as a Federation of trade unions, it should also be recognised as a role player in our labour relations system,” the PS stated in the correspondence to BOFEPUSU.

The PS also emphasised that it is a legal requirement in terms of part XVI of the Employment Act 47:01 that when the minister considers it necessary to fix or adjust minimum wages, he shall refer the issues to the Minimum Wages Advisory Board for investigation and advice (which BFTU/BOFEPUSU should sit in).

Similarly, she said, part XVII of the same Act requires the minister to, where it is reasonably practical to do so, consult the Labour Advisory Board (which is inclusive of either BFTU/BOFEPUSU) before he introduces any Bill relating to employment into the National Assembly or before making any subsidiary legislation relating to employment.

Other consultative structures of arrangements that require the participation of workers’ and employers’ representatives (any national labour centre) include consultation on reports to the ILO, participation in the Decent Work Country Programme Steering Committee, ILC, Sectorial High Level Consultative Meetings and other engagements which require the input of workers and employers.

On another letter dated 13 May 2016 the PS reiterated that “you will recall that this ministry wrote to BOFEPUSU and BFTU on 18th August 2015 about the representation of workers in the social dialogue structures.”

In the correspondence she said they requested the two federations to work out an arrangement that would facilitate the representation of workers in meetings and activities that require workers’ participation.

“In view of the fact that this matter is still pending, we have decided that this year we will allow a delegate from BFTU to represent workers to the ILC. But this delegate shall be accompanied by an advisor from BOFEPUSU, and the expenses for the participation of the workers’ delegate and advisor shall be paid by government.”

Meanwhile, in November last year, Rari wrote to BFTU requesting for a meeting to discuss issues of workers’ representation in Social Dialogue structures.

“This comes in wake of BOFEPUSU being recognized and accorded the status of a Labour Centre in the country hence enjoying the right of representing workers in social Dialogue structures,” Rari had highlighted to BFTU then.

He maintained: “if such a meeting proceeds without us being represented, our constituents are bound to suffer owing to non – representation.” However, BFTU responded on 18th November indicating that they cannot meet BOFEPUSU on account that they had written to MLHA seeking further clarification on the matter.

BOPEU is also caught up in a court feud with BOFEPUSU regarding who should sit in the Public Service Bargaining Council – following the disaffiliation of BOPEU from the PSBC. BOPEU is currently carrying out due diligence on BFTU to weigh out options of whether to reach a final decision to affiliate.

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