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Public Service Act, 2008 amendments: a review (Part I)

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Government has tabled a Bill to amend the Public Service Act, 2008 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) before Parliament. In this two part series, we discuss the said amendments and comment on their propriety or lack thereof.

In this article, we discuss the following proposed amendments, namely: (a) forms of misconduct, (b) the enactment of rules of procedure to be followed in disciplinary matters by the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP), and not to Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC), and (c) that when reduction of salary is imposed as a punishment the consent of the employee shall not be required.

We also discuss the proposed amendments (d) that disputes, or appeals thereto, between public servants and the employer will be referred to the Commissioner of Labour in terms of the Trade Disputes Act, 2003 instead of the PSBC and (e) that a person holding “a management post” (and not “in senior management of the public service”) shall not engage in a strike or action short of a strike.

In the next article, we discuss the following proposed amendments, namely: (f) that the General Secretary of the PSBC, shall be appointed by the PSP from amongst employees of the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) and (g) that only Public Officers can be representatives of trade unions admitted to the PSBC.

We also discuss the proposed amendments (h) that government can confer a benefit on an employee notwithstanding ongoing negotiations, (i) that recognition will entitle a union to one seat at the PSBC and (j) that those suspended from duty will not be guaranteed full salary, but nothing less than half their salary.

We also discuss the proposed amendments (k) that the misconduct of engaging in an amorous or sexual relationship affects all public officers as opposed to teachers only as is currently the case and (l) the proposal to amend the Act by increasing punishments for certain offences.     

Before the discussion a brief background is apposite. As a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Botswana, in 1997, ratified the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention 87 which aims at safeguarding the free exercise by workers and employers of the right to organize for furthering and defending their interests.

Still in 1997, Botswana ratified the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention 98 which further elaborates the rights set forth in convention 87. The convention aims at protecting workers exercising the right to organize, preventing interference in workers and employers organizations and promoting voluntary collective bargaining.

Particularly with respect to the public service, Botswana, still in 1997, ratified the Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention, which guarantees the right to organize for workers in the public sector.

As a result of the ratification of these conventions Botswana passed the Act which, inter alia, gave public servants the right to unionize. Hitherto, public servants could only belong to staff associations as was the case with Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU)’s predecessor, Botswana Civil Service Association (BCSA), for example.   

I have earlier written in this column that government is likely to take advantage of the divisions within the trade union movement, in particular the conflict between BOFEPUSU and the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), to enact legislation or amend existing legislation to enhance its stranglehold over the workers.

I have also earlier written that some have advised government that the Act brought ‘too much liberalization’ within the labour environment, something which is a threat to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s rule considering that most trade unions seem to be aligned to the Opposition.

It would appear that teachers are the biggest threat to the BDP, perhaps because the two largest teacher trade unions, Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) and Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) are aligned to the Opposition Umbrella for Democratic Movement (UDC) through their federation, BOFEPUSU.  

Recently, the BDP has stated that it supports the controversial Bill to classify teaching as an essential service which, if passed, will take away the right to strike from teachers. The BDP Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane, was quoted by Mmegi’s online edition of 7th July 2016 saying “The BDP supports the Bill in its entirety including classification of the teaching cadre as an essential service… This is an issue that the BDP caucus has discussed and which is informed by a resolution of the BDP National Council for the teaching cadre to be removed from the Act,”

First, the proposal that relates to forms of misconduct. Seemingly, four forms of misconduct have been added, namely (i) publicly speaking or demonstrating for or against any politician or political party, (ii) being an active member of, or holding office in any political party, (iii) publishing one’s views on political matters in writing and (iv) holding a Parliamentary seat or holding a political office in any local government body except where the office is held ex officio.

I have written before in this column that because they are expected to serve all citizens without favour and members of the public should be assured of unbiased service, it is wrong for public servants to be actively involved in politics. I also condemned BOFEPUSU’s alignment with the UDC. I still maintain this position. I, therefore, agree with the aforesaid proposed amendments.  

How can a citizen who is a well known member of the Opposition, for example, be confident that he or she has been assisted fairly if he or she is assisted by a public servant who is a well- known member of the ruling party?

Imagine a situation where a teacher, for example, is a Member of Parliament (MP) or Councilor! How will he or she divide his or her time between teaching and Parliament or Council? Can his or her supervisor be able to effectively supervise him or her? Can he or she relate well with students and fellow teachers?

Imagine a situation where a nurse, for example, clad in full political party regalia, participates in a demonstration against an area MP or against a particular political party! Can a citizen who is a well-known member of a political party which is rival to the nurse’s be comfortable when given medication by such a rival nurse?       

Second, the proposal to amend section 39 (2) of the Act by leaving the responsibility to enact rules of procedure to be followed in disciplinary matters to the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP), and not to Collective Bargaining as is currently the case.

This, I disagree with. Giving such power to the PSP, who is in fact a political appointee, is prejudicial to public servants because he alone, obviously at the whims of his political master, the President, will effectively determine the fate of thousands of public servants without their input through their trade unions.     

Third, the proposal to amend the Act to the effect that when reduction of a salary is imposed as a punishment the consent of the employee shall not be required as is currently the case. Before deciding whether or not this proposed amendment is apposite a few questions ought to be considered.

Is it reasonable to expect a person who has been found guilty of an offence to consent to the punishment? Put differently, if not consenting to punishment would absolve an offender, without consequence, of the punishment would offenders consent to punishment? Certainly, none of these questions can be answered in the affirmative. This proposed amendment is, therefore, apposite otherwise no public servant would ever consent to a reduction of salary rendering the provision for such punishment meaningless.

Fourth, the proposal to amend the Act to the effect that disputes, or appeals thereto, between public servants and the employer will be referred to the Commissioner of Labour in terms of the Trade Disputes Act, 2003 instead of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).

The BOFEPUSU Secretary General, Tobokani Rari is right in arguing, as quoted in Mmegi’s online edition of 8th July 2016, that “…it is the more ideal forum for public servants with grievances against government as the officers presiding over the disputes are not public servants… It is furthermore open to everyone regardless of whether they are unionized or not and regardless of whether their union forms part of the PSBC.”

I disagree with this proposed amendment. It is international best practice that where there is a PSBC it performs, inter alia, dispute resolution functions. In South Africa, for example, clause 5.3 of the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council (GPSSBC) gives such function to the GPSSBC.

Fifth, the proposal to amend section 47 of the Act by providing that a person holding “a management post” (and not “in senior management of the public service”) shall not engage in a strike or action short of a strike.

If indeed, as the proposed amendment provides, the term “management” means  “an employee or public officer who has authority, on behalf of his employer, to employ, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, terminate the employment of, reward, discipline or deal with the grievances relating to the employment of any fellow employees or effectively to recommend any such action or the manner in which such grievances ought to be dealt with, if the exercise by him or her of that authority is not merely of a routine or clerical nature but require the use of his her discretion” I am agreeable to the amendment.  

In fairness, it would be prejudicial to government if its managers who have such high level responsibilities and are entrusted with confidential and even secret information are allowed to engage in a strike or action short of a strike. It can even be prejudicial to the workers themselves since such managers may be used by government to gather information about the strike and give it to government.

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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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