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Government can’t win against workers!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Reports that government has resolved to terminate the secondments of trade union officials who, in terms of the collective labour agreements between trade unions and government, have been seconded to run trade union offices are a cause for concern.

The same applies to government’s decision to dismiss the trade union leaders it regards as pro-Opposition and anti-government. This is especially so in this day and era when respect for trade unions and workers’ rights are essential tenets of democracy.

It is troubling that we, despite being acclaimed internationally as a beacon of democracy, have leaders, in both cabinet and Parliament, who are so intolerant to dissent and alternative views that they go to the extent of stooping as low as plotting the demise of those who disagree with them.

The former president of Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Japhta Radibe, was sent into early retirement. The Secretary General for Botswana Land Board & Local Authorities & Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) who is also the Deputy Secretary General for Botswana Federation of Public & Private Sector Unions (BOFEPPUSU), Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, was dismissed from work.

The BOFEPPUSU president who is also BTU president, Johannes Tshukudu, had to resort to the High Court to stop his malicious transfer from his lifetime job of being a Lecturer to an Administrator at the Ministry of Transport & Communications.

Today there are reports that government has plans to dismiss the Secretary General of BOFEPPUSU who is also the Secretary General for Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU), Tobokani Rari, simply because he is one of the leaders of the workers’ efforts to liberate themselves from the yoke of oppression by Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM).

Despite making immense contribution to our country’s development, trade union leaders are never given national recognition. How many trade union leaders have been appointed as nominated councillors or Specially Elected Members of Parliament, Ambassadors, e.t.c?

How many trade union leaders have been appointed as members of national committees or task forces, for instance the Vision the 2036 Task Force? How many have been given national awards? Even during the 50th Anniversary of Independence celebrations trade union leaders were not recognized.

Can anyone honestly claim that such renowned trade unionists as Amalgamated Local Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union’s Johnson Motshwarakgole are not worthy of national recognition? Is the work they have done in the emancipation of thousands of workers not worth recognition and celebration?  

It is disconcerting for a cabinet minister, for example, to be quoted, albeit anonymously, saying “… the problem with some of BOFEPPUSU leaders is that they have forgotten that they are employed by the government of the day and they have a tendency of discrediting us …2019 is going to be a tough election for us and for us to win the election without a hassle we have to do something about these guys who are pushing the opposition agenda in the name of workers’ welfare.”

It is equally disconcerting that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Chief Whip, Liakat Kablay, was quoted as saying “ … Now they are into politics yet they should advocate for the welfare of their members…” When a cabinet minister says ‘… we have to do something about these guys…’ what does it mean? Does n’t it mean the dismissals and recalls from secondment we have heared about? Does it mean worse? We hope it does not.  

Are such issues as salary increments and overtime allowances which BOFEPPUSU, for example, has been leading partisan politics? Are they not about the welfare of the workers who are members of public sector trade unions?  

Should trade union leaders betray their members by failing to condemn government when it errs simply because they are government employees?  What is the essence of trade unionism? Is n’t it about defending the workers from such intransigent employers as DPSM without fear or favour?

When trade union leaders talk against such ills as low wages, lack of progression and poor working conditions are they discrediting the government or they want government to make improvements to public servants’ lives? How can a call for the improvement of a peoples’ live be regarded as partisan politics?

Granted, some trade union leaders occasionally stray into the political arena, but that can be addressed through disciplinary proceedings, if warranted, rather than vindictive action which is aimed not at rehabilitating the individual, but at destroying the individual and trade unionism in general.

This government has made several attempts at undermining trade unionism and workers’ rights generally. Its efforts to stop the secondment of trade union officials; cease making deductions other than trade union subscriptions from members’ salaries as well stopping such benefits as provision of office space and transportation to some trade unions have been thwarted by the courts.

Following the 2011 public sector strike, government dismissed hundreds of essential service employees. Though that, as was later held by the Court of Appeal, was lawful and promoted the rule of law, it showed government’s mercilessness in dealing with dissent, even under the banner of collective bargaining.

In an effort to diminish the workers’ collective bargaining power through strike action government declared such professions as teaching as an essential service. Little did government know that collective bargaining power is not always in numbers. It is in fact in organization and strategy and tactics.  

The truth is that no matter what government does to suppress trade unionism and workers’ rights it cannot win against workers. It is the workers who will emerge victorious. But for this victory to be even sweeter the workers need to stick together. They need to stay true to the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

It is for this reason that it is disheartening that some trade union leaders are being bought by the BDP, for money and positions of power, to weaken trade unions. But they too cannot succeed in weakening the might of the workers for the workers’ cause is too noble to be distracted by a few individuals no matter how powerful they think they are.

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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