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Government is the problem, not the PSBC!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

EAGLE WATCH

 

According to Mmegi Online’s edition of 24th February 2017 the Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Honourable Kenneth Matambo, “… the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) is a problem. Frankly, if there was no this bargaining council thing (sic) we would have increased salaries by now…”

 

It is troubling for a senior cabinet minister like the Minister of Finance & Economic Development to call the PSBC, an entity created by an Act of Parliament, as ‘this thing’ and as ‘a problem’. This attitude is no doubt an indication of the negative view government has of the PSBC and of workers’ rights generally.

 

No matter how much a government minister differs with an entity let alone one created by statute it should not regard it in such a condescending manner as to call it ‘this thing’ and as ‘a problem.’  It should treat it with respect or at least tolerance.

 

It is such statements that make one believe that the proposed amendments to the Public Service Act, 2008 are not in the nation’s best interests, but are motivated by bad faith, the ulterior motive being to degrade workers’ bargaining power.

 

In the first place it is clear that Honourable Matambo does not understand how the PSBC works. If he knew that it is a forum made up of government and trade unions he would not address it as this thing and as a problem. His attitude gives the impression that he thinks it is only made up of trade unions. 

 

Honorable Matambo’s claim, which he made when responding to Members of Parliament (MPs)’s comments to the budget speech, cannot be correct.  The Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sectors Unions (BOFEPPPUSU) president, Johannes Tshukudu, is, therefore, right in describing Honourable Matambo’s claim as “self-serving”.

 

The claim is self-serving in that Honorable Matambo wants to give the impression that Government is without blemish in the impasse that is currently besieging the PSBC and by extension the public service. As it will be shown below this is not correct.

 

It is common knowledge that the reason public servants’ salary negotiations stalled is not because of the Union party represented by BOFEPPPUSU, but because of the Employer party represented by the Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM) which walked away from the negotiation table.

 

It is also common knowledge that in an effort to have the salary negotiations proceed BOFEPUSU launched a court application to compel the employer party to return to the negotiation table. Clearly, this shows that the Union party wants to have the negotiations concluded.

 

It is public knowledge that following BOFEPPPUSU’s court action, through which it also wants the courts to clarify the scope of the PSBC, Government complicated the matter by taking a decision not to negotiate arguing that there was a pending court case and insisting that it should be withdrawn first before continuing with the 2016/17 salary negotiations.

 

Besides, it is common cause that it is in the interest of the Union party to have the salary negotiations concluded. Why would a trade union, which depends on the happiness of its members, risk by frustrating a process that would result in salary increments for its members?

 

No trade union can, without any reasonable cause, take such a political risk because it would lose the support of its members who would by now be feeling the inflationary effects of not having a salary increment. This can result in some Union office bearers losing elections, some of which, for instance for Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU), are imminent.

 

The truth is that BOFEPPPUSU has used salary negotiations to defend the principle of collective bargaining as enshrined in the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention 98 which Botswana ratified in 1997.  

 

In fact, BOFEPPPUSU has used the salary negotiations to give effect to the Public Service Act of 2008 which established the PSBC which, among other things, serves as a forum for bargaining between government and public service trade unions.

 

In terms of the PSBC constitution, 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 collective bargaining. In so doing, government not only contravened the ILO’s Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention 98, but also contravened its own Public Service Act, 2008 and the PSBC constitution.

 

As I have argued earlier, 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 such conditions as sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, rest days, hours of work e.t.c in future?

 

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 PSBC.

 

Not only that. There is a proposed amendment to provide 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 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 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- 1998. 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 collective bargaining. Instead, they compelled both employers and employees to take part in government-established structures that controlled all decisions concerning labour relations.

 

In view of the aforegoing, it is clear that it is not the PSBC or trade unions that are the problem. Government, through its intransigent DPSM and the negative attitude of such ministers as Honourable Matambo, is the problem.

 

Granted, some trade unionists may have crossed the line of political neutrality, but that cannot be an excuse for government to punish an entire public service by rendering the PSBC ineffectual. If government indeed has a case against such trade unionists it should follow due process to punish them individually. 

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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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… 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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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

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 www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    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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