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BOFEPUSU appeals Industrial Court ruling

Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has decided to appeal the Industrial Court decision that pushed the Federation out of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). The Federation has already filed the appeal paper with the Court of Appeal.

The decision by the Federation follows a ruling by the Industrial Court Judge President Justice Tebogo Maruping this week confirming the interim interdict that he issued on 22nd February 2016 to be a final court ruling.

The confirmed interim interdict which is now a final court ruling provides that, The PSBC verification report that confirmed that BOFEPUSU meets the threshold and as such should continue being admitted into the PSBC is set aside; BOFEPUSU is not entitled to be admitted into the Public Service Bargaining Council; Only trade unions recognized by the government of Botswana on its capacity as the employer, are entitled to be admitted into the Public Service Bargaining Council; and that – For the purposes of verification of whether or not a trade union party should continue to be admitted, the PSBC should take into consideration the individual membership figures of each union rather than as a collective.

BOFEPUSU Secretary General, Tobokani Rari said BOFEPUSU and the four affiliate unions carefully considered the judgement with a view of mapping a way forward. “In doing so particular attention was given to the fact that they are two available options, of either resorting to the mediation process as suggested by the court at paragraph 55 (8) or exercising our right to appeal,” he wrote in a statement.  

Rari said a decision was arrived as there are some fundamental points of law and facts that the court overlooked and as such BOFEPUSU and the four affiliates would appeal the judgement. “Our view is that such misdirections are so grave that they cannot be left to pass without being challenged at the court of appeal.”

The BOFEPUSU Secretary General said the appeal papers have already been signed to be filed before the Court of Appeal.  “We therefore appeal to affiliate unions, their general membership and public service in general to exercise patience and restraint as the case would be proceeding to the Court of Appeal,” said Rari.

HOW THE INDUSTRIAL COURT REASONED

The industrial Court ruling on Wednesday yanked BOFEPUSU out of the Public Sector Bargaining Council (PSBC) in a case where the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) had sought the court to bar BOFEPUSU as a federation from PSBC.

Judge President of the Industrial Court, Tebogo Maruping ruled that only trade unions which are recognised by the government in its capacity as the employer are entitled to be admitted into the membership of the PSBC.

He also continued that, for purposes of verification of whether or not the trade union party to the PSBC should continue to be admitted, PSBC shall take into consideration the individual membership figures of trade unions that make up BOFEPUSU but not as a collective.

Judge President Maruping also said that, “the dispute has given the court a lot of anxiety, the primary reason being that there is a great deal at stake for both parties.”

He added that, “in the eyes of the court there is even a greater deal at stake for the many public officers who are looking forward to being represented in the salary and conditions of service for 2016/2017 and the court appreciates the fact that time is obviously of essence.”

Judge President Maruping also directed the disputing unions and all labour unions that represent public officers to meet with Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) to amend the constitution of PSBC.

He thus interdicted PSBC from proceeding with the 2016/2017 salary and conditions of service negotiations pending the outcome of the mediation of this dispute by the Commissioner of labour within 30 days.

Maruping also said that the court is aware that as the matters stand, if the PSBC were to move forward it will only have one union, National Amalgamated Local Government, Parastatal and Manual Workers Union, as the trade union party, “which is unacceptable.”

He also continued to say that the court is also aware that time has probably run against PSBC as far as negotiations of the 2016/2017 salary negotiations and conditions of service are concerned but it is a matter that the court will leave for resolution by the trade unions and their employer.

Maruping also observed that while BOFEPUSU is cited fifth in the court papers, according to the labour unions making up the federation, BOFEPUSU was an ‘Acting Jointly Arrangement’ or ‘AJA’ which was admitted as the trade union party into Bargaining Council.

He continues that, according to the unions in the federation, it was that ‘AJA’ which went by the name BOFEPUSU and not the federation cited in the court papers before observing that, “curiously if that is correct it would mean that BOFEPUSU ‘AJA’ is not cited as in court proceedings… the question that immediately comes to mind is whether this BOFEPUSU ‘AJA’ has a separate legal existence from the unions under which it exists in the same way that the federation has.”

Judge President Maruping then concludes that, “probably not because as has been emphasized during the hearing of this dispute it is just a label."

He also said that the current constitution of the PSBC which would allow a trade union with 10 000 members to represent its workers in the PSBC while one with 26000 members does not, is not a sensible approach and does not give the best effect to the apparent purpose of all the parties who have agreed to terms of PSBC constitution.

He also said that in view of the court the trade unions at first had options that would have avoided the current quagmire such as making specific provision for qualification for admission such as preferring absolute numbers such as 5,000, 10,000 or 15,000 as opposed to fractions or the one third of the membership of all recognised trade unions whose members are public officers.

Judge President Maruping also said that as figures stand at the moment it is only the Manual Workers Union which qualifies for admission into PSBC at 30,812 members against a threshold of 28,780. He also continued to say that the court is not convinced that BOPEU does not have direct interest in the case as it is the next largest union and has shown interest in continuing to be a member of the PSBC. He however noted that its application for an ‘acting jointly arrangement’ with unions which does not qualify numerically seems to cast doubt on its own position on the matter.

He also said that the court has come to the conclusion that this is a dispute which requires the parties to look at the bigger picture and to decide what is best for themselves and their members saying that the parties may wish to benchmark on what is considered to be best international practice in such situations.

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