Botswana, government clash over early retirement

by Gowenius Toka

Accusations between government officials and trade unionists were this week flying thick and fast following the controversial sacking of 25 senior government officials. Trade unionists claim that government is pursuing a secret agenda, saying the sacking amounts to underhand tactics by government, aimed at reversing the gains that they made during negotiations.

They also accused government of adopting a contradictory position by failing to give the real reasons for the latest dismissals, despite professing to be committed to democratization of the workplace. This, they said, has prompted fears that authorities may be planning to effect some drastic changes, which would otherwise be difficult to implement in a fully unionized public service.

Andrew Motsamai, President of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), said that they suspect that government may be on a calculated campaign to reverse the strategic gains made by the public service trade unions by sweeping issues which would otherwise belong to structures prescribed by the delayed new public service Act, 2008 under the carpet.

University of Botswana lecturer and political analyst, Dr Zibane Maundeni, called on government to reveal the real reasons for the dismissals to avoid speculation and fear in the work place.

“It is unhealthy for people to live in fear, always wondering if they will be next to be given the boot,” he said.

The fact that some of these people were fired shortly after being elevated to more senior positions made the puzzle even more complex. In a previous interview with The Sunday Standard, BOPEU Secretary General, Mbakiso Magola, said that the Permanent Secretary to the President Eric Molale, had previously intimated that some amendments viewed to be in the interests of both parties were envisaged for implementation. He added that Molale opted for silence when pressed to give reasons for the delay in implementation of the Public Service Act, 2008.

Molale would later refuse to comment on the issue when contacted by The Sunday Standard.

“I am not going to respond to that, you are in the habit of chasing after petty issues” he said.

Information passed to The Sunday Standard indicates that government might renege on an initial agreement concerning omission of section 15(3) of the current act (public service act, 1998) for reasons still to be pronounced. The section gives government authority to retire public employees who have reached 45 years. Section 15(3) is not present in the new public act 2008, and there are fears that recent insinuations by government to review the new act are actually meant to re-impose it.

BOPEU has lambasted government for delaying to implement the new act, saying that it is proof that government acts in bad faith when dealing with employees.

“Section 15(3) was removed after mutual agreements that it leaves the fate of employees subject to the whims of powerful individuals, without clear cut definitions of circumstances that could lead to their early retirement,” said Motsamai.

It was also agreed that retiring employees at an age that is not recognized by the Pensions and Provident Fund Act as eligible for pension undermines workers basic entitlements. Government has been accused of breaching International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention no. 158 which calls for the need to give employees a hearing and reasons for being laid off. The latest ILO 2009 report also advised government to implement Convention 1976 (No. 144).

Against this background, said BOPEU, government’s continued adoption of unilateral measures under the guise of improving productivity and delivery falls short of international standards.

(The Sunday standard)

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