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BOFEPUSU-BOPEU fight costs public servants!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Following Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU)’s disaffiliation from Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) I wrote an article in which I discussed the labour implications of such disaffiliation.

I opined then that some of the labour implications of the disaffiliation are that the members that BOPEU will take way from BOFEPUSU will weaken BOFEPUSU’s influence and bargaining power; BOPEU will lose the solidarity and support it enjoyed from the other BOFEPUSU affiliates; and BOPEU will lose the benefit of representation by BOFEPUSU at the International Labour Organization (ILO).

I also argued that as a result of BOPEU’s disaffiliation from BOFEPUSU the latter will lose the intellect and leadership prowess of some of BOPEU’s leaders and members; BOFEPUSU will be weakened by the loss of membership subscriptions it has been getting from BOPEU and because of the rivalry that will inevitably prevail between BOFEPUSU and BOPEU the workers’ cause is likely to be compromised as a result of in-fighting and sabotage.

Further that, incredible as it may sound, BOPEU’s disaffiliation from BOFEPUSU will deny the latter access to strategic government information and the fall out caused by BOPEU’s disaffiliation from BOFEPUSU may result in some members of public sector trade unions resigning because of loss of faith and confidence on trade unionism.

It was also my argument that if the divisions within the trade union movement wider and trade unions, especially at a federation level, become weaker, government may exploit the situation by enacting anti-labour legislation in anticipation of limited resistance by the weakened public sector trade unions.

Before the ink on BOPEU’s disaffiliation letter dried, one of the aforesaid implications has been actualized. In an unprecedented move BOPEU successfully moved an urgent application at the Industrial Court of Botswana(IC) in which it prayed that the IC declares that BOFEPUSU is not entitled to membership of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). BOFEPUSU has since appealed the judgment by Judge President Tebogo Maruping.

True to the adage that ‘when elephants fight it is the grass that suffers’, this fight between BOPEU and BOFEPUSU has cost public servants in several respects. Firstly, government has taken advantage of the uncertainty on the existence of the PSBC by unilaterally increasing public servants’ salaries for the 2016/17 financial year by 3% across the board increase.

Also, if it true that BOFEPUSU had intended to, through the PSBC, propose a 13.5 % salary increment and a 10% housing allowance for all public service employees, the fight between BOPEU and BOFEPUSU has indeed cost public service employees. It is indeed a suicidal fight.

Granted, BOFEPUSU would most likely not get all its demands, but a possibility exists that a united BOFEPUSU would push Government to at least settle for an above inflation salary increase of say 4.5%. But now that Government knows that a BOFEPUSU strike without BOPEU is unlikely, and if it obtains would be ineffective, it is prepared to dare BOFEPUSU and by extension public servants.    

The BOPEU-BOFEPUSU debacle notwithstanding, Government deserves rebuke for its intransigence and disrespect for the rule of law. It is common cause that in terms of the Public Service Act and the PSBC constitution, Government is bound to negotiate salaries and conditions of service through the PSBC of which it is a party.

The fact that there is a case currently before the Court of Appeal which touches on the existence of the PSBC does not give Government a warrant to disregard the PBSC. Until the Court of Appeal renders its verdict on the matter the PSBC is lawfully in existence and its processes should be respected by all member parties.

BOFEPUSU’s Secretary General, Tobokani Rari, is quoted as saying “one of BOPEU’s prayers in the case, which we are appealing, is that they wanted negotiations stopped pending the outcome of the case. The process is incomplete yet, so one cannot say the PSBC is defunct… Even if the PSBC has been dismantled, which we disagree with, the employer is bound to engage recognised unions…” Rari cannot have been more right.

Disregarding the PSBC, as Government did, in making the 3% unilateral salary increase is tantamount to disrespecting the rule of law. This is a regrettable erosion of our democracy which has serious implications not only with respect to the rule of law, but also in relation to democracy in general. This conduct is inconsistent with our reputation as an internationally acclaimed beacon of democracy.

Firstly, it raises suspicion as to whether or not Government is privy to what will be the outcome of the appeal. The question is: Is Government making the 3% unilateral salary increase because it knows that BOFEPUSU’s appeal will be dismissed?

Secondly, it raises the question as to whether Government deliberately wants to render the Court of Appeal judgment meaningless should it favour BOFEPUSU. Government knows that once it has implemented the salary increase, the courts of law, in terms of the doctrine of separation of powers and/or for policy considerations, are unlikely to reverse the increase.

Also, public servants, having already benefited from the increase, are likely to be opposed to BOFEPUSU’s efforts to have the increase declared null and void and set aside. For some public servants, semi darkness is better than utter darkness. In any event, some say, a negotiation at the PSBC even if it is ordered by the court is unlikely to yield an increase higher than 3%.

It is disturbing that the trend whereby Government deliberately, in anticipation, renders court judgments meaningless is growing. Recently, while the case between government and the Botswana National Youth Council (BNYC) relating to the dissolution of the latter was pending before the High Court, Government proceeded with appointing BNYC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and transferring BNYC’s assets to government.

The unilateral salary increase issue is not the only indication that Government is intent on exploiting the fight between BOPEU and BOFEPUSU. Recently, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Honourable Edwin Batshu, tabled a paper proposing amendment to the Trade Disputes Act.

In terms of the proposed amendment Bill, Government wants the Minister empowered to declare a service that is not essential, essential when workers absent themselves during a lengthy strike that may endanger the lives, safety or health of citizens. This would effectively render the right to industrial action or strike meaningless.

Government also intends to take advantage of the standoff between BOPEU and BOFEPUSU to pass the Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) Amendment Bill of 2015, further prejudicing teachers. The Bill proposes that the responsibility for invigilation or supervision of coursework or examination arising and relating to all examinable subjects offered in an examination centre shall remain the responsibility of the examination centre. It also gives the employer the privilege to direct teachers in an examination centre to invigilate candidates sitting for examinations.

As much as we blame Government for reneging on its promise to respect the rule of law, we should even more so blame BOPEU and BOFEPUSU for providing an opportunity for Government to derogate public servants’ rights. After all, the relationship between any Government and trade unions is an adversarial one where both parties do all they can to protect their interests.

Hitherto, I wrote an article in which I argued that the only way to end the feud between BOPEU and BOFEPUSU is by mediation and not by litigation. I reiterate this argument and once again call upon Faith Based Organizations, Civil Society, the media, the Opposition and Attorneys for BOPEU and BOFEPUSU to mediate between BOPEU and BOFEPUSU.        

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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