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Unionists, Defend the principle of bargaining!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Reportedly, the Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sectors Union (BOFEPPPUSU) will, in the 1st and 2nd weeks of January 2017, conduct a nationwide consultation of its structures on the 3% wage increase that was not awarded to its affiliates.

This, it would appear, is necessitated by the fact that there are reports that some public servants who are members of BOFEPPPUSU trade unions are calling for the leadership to accept the 3% wage increase and move on failing which they will resign from the BOFEPPPUSU trade unions.
Not only that. There are unconfirmed reports that some BOFEPPPUSU trade unions are losing members to Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) which, unlike BOFEPPPUSU, accepted government’s unilateral 3% wage increase.

The question is: should BOFEPPPUSU, like BOPEU, accept government’s unilateral 3% wage increase and move on or it should continue fighting in defence of the principle of bargaining? In answering this question, it is apposite that we trace the origins of the bargaining power that public servants enjoy today.

Botswana is a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO). In 1997, Botswana ratified the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention 98. The convention aims at protecting workers exercising the right to organize, preventing interference in workers and employers organizations and promoting voluntary collective bargaining.

To give effect to this, and to entrench the sacrosanct principle of bargaining, Botswana, following the enactment of the Public Service Act of 2008, established the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) which, among other things, serves as a forum for bargaining between government and public service trade unions.

In terms of the constitution of the PSBC, which has been signed by both government and public service trade unions, it is obligatory for the government and public service trade unions to bargain on all issues relating to terms and conditions of service for public servants. This includes wage increments.
It, therefore, follows that before awarding a salary increment to public servants, government is obliged, by law, to exhaustively, through the PSBC, enter into meaningful bargaining with public service trade unions. These negotiations have to be conducted in good faith. Additionally, the PSBC’s function cannot be usurped, not even by presidential prerogative.   

Therefore, when in April 2015, government unilaterally granted the 3% wage increment to public servants it violated the principle of bargaining. In so doing, government not only contravened the ILO’s Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention 98, but also contravened the PSBC constitution.
Granted, as was later held by the courts, government had the right to award the increment to non-unionized public servants. It of course, as in BOPEU’s case, has the right to award the increment to those who waive their right to collective bargaining. But it simply had no such right with respect to unionized public servants who have not waived their right to collective bargaining.

It is in this regard that BOFEPPPUSU’s decision to make a court application to compel government to go back to the negotiation table is commendable for it seeks to protect a principle which is the cornerstone of trade unionism, i.e. bargaining.
If government gets its way this will mark the end of the PSBC and the principle of collective bargaining. This, coupled with the declaration of teaching as an essential service and, therefore, not entitled to strike as well as the impending amendments to the Public Service Act, 2008, will effectively render the Public Service Act, 2008 moribund.

Today it is the unilateral wage increment, but tomorrow it could be worse. If government has its way this time around what will stop it from unilaterally varying terms and conditions of service relating to sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, rest days, hours of work e.t.c in future?
In my view, nothing will stop it especially if it realizes that union members easily give in. The power relations between the employer and the employee are not always resolved through the courts. Often times their resolution involves strategy and tactics.

So far, government has the urge in terms of the strategy and tactics battle, especially the divide and rule tactic. First was BOPEU’s disaffiliation from BOFEPPPUSU. Second was awarding the 3% to non-unionized public servants. Third was BOPEU’s acceptance of the 3%. Fourth is an attempt to render the PSBC toothless.

The question is: can you, as a trade unionist, allow yourself to be part of the trade union movement that allowed government to decimate trade unionism to this extend?  I am neither an employee nor a trade union member, but I feel I cannot stand by and watch government reversing the labour relations gains we have made since 2008.

Clearly, government is on a war path to punish public servants for the 2011 public sector strike. It has reduced public servants’ industrial action power by taking away the right to strike from teachers, among others. It has tabled amendments to the Public Service Act, 2008 which, if passed as they most likely will, will effectively take us to pre-2008.

Many of these proposed amendments are targeted at the PSBC. An example is the enactment of rules of procedure to be followed in disciplinary matters by the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP), and not the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). Not only that. There is a proposed amendment 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.

Government also intends to amend the Public Service Act, 2008 to the effect 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 that only Public Officers can be representatives of trade unions admitted to the PSBC.

It is also government’s intention to amend the Public Service Act, 2008 to the effect that government can confer a benefit on an employee notwithstanding ongoing negotiations as well as to provide the that recognition will entitle a union to one seat at the PSBC. Clearly, government has targeted the PSBC. If public servants allow government to succeed in relegating the PSBC to obscurity and thereby taking away the principle of collective bargaining, they will have allowed government to take us to pre- 1997. History will certainly not forgive public servants for such an abdication of duty.

In fact, considering how well the world has progressed, government’s action will take us to the period between 1920 and the 1970s when fascist governments prohibited free bargaining. Instead, they compelled both employers and employees to take part in government-established structures that controlled all decisions concerning labour relations.   

It is incontrovertible that the 3% wage increment will make a difference, albeit insignificant, in public servants’ lives, but is it worth the sacrifice of losing a principle as cardinal to trade unionism as collective bargaining?

In any event, the court case on the scope of the PSBC will be heared in February 2017. Public servants have endured the lack of a wage increment for about ten months now. They surely can endure an additional three months or so, can’t they?
True trade unionists cannot abandon their unions of choice for a mere 3% wage increase nor can they join a trade union which is not truly of their choice only to get a 3% wage increase. There is certainly more to trade unionism than that.  
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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