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We are no sell-outs – BOPEU’s Motsamai

18 May, 2015

The Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) President, Andrew Motsamai has defended his union’s decision to engage the Office of the President in resolving some issues affecting the union’s members, amid criticism that the union is selling out.

After the fallout with the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Union (BOFEPUSU) post 2014 general elections, BOPEU has been operating outside the remits of the Federation.

The tiff with the Federation developed after the latter endorsed the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) towards the elections.

Motsamai summoned the media this week to explain a few standpoints amid perceptions that the union is now pro-government, with some labelling its leaders as sell-outs.  

“Those who question our engagement with the Office of the President do not understand the role of a trade union,” said Motsamai.  “It is our role to develop a working relationship with those in power, to engage them on issues affecting our members. Some issues are not for bargaining but for consultation and policy.”

BOPEU is the biggest public sector union in terms of resources and membership statistics. As an investment it could be valued at over a billion Pula.

The BOPEU leader said policy is the prerogative of those in power and the unions’ role is to contest it. “Take for instance the NDP 11 which is about to be formulated. We have to get into the policy forums and engage BOCCIM and government bureaucrats to shape it in our favour,” he said. “NDP 11 cannot be brought to the bargaining council.”

Last year November, BOPEU invited President Ian Khama to officiate at their convention. Khama hailed BOPEU as a responsible union, further inviting the leadership to his office “anytime” to discuss issues affecting employees and union members.  

Motsamai indicated that those opposed to BOPEU’s modus operandi were applying double standards because when teachers engage the Ministry of Education and Skills Development on Levels of Operation or supervision of sporting activities outside the bargaining council, it is viewed as legitimate interaction.

“But when BOPEU interacts with OP it is selling out. BOPEU has to engage OP because its membership cuts across the entire government spectrum,” he said.

Motsamai said their first point of call is the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM), which is a department under the Office of the President.

 “Head of the public service is the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP). When we engage the OP we are administratively engaging the PSP,” he stated.

“A smart trade union cannot avoid an opportunity to engage with the Office of the President of the country and fortunately our members are able to separate the office from the person or the party.”

Motsamai told the media that despite the current uproar on BOPEU’s liaison with OP, they have previously done this, several times.

A former secretary general of BOFEPUSU, Motsamai noted that ever since the 2011 public servants strike, there has been little engagement with the Office of the President.

“It’s not a new development; we have been doing this for years. Many of public servants gains achieved in improved conditions were as a result of such interaction,” he contended.