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BOPEU Hosts a successful Convention

13 May, 2015

Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) on Thursday 4th December 2014 held their 72nd annual general convention at Majestic Five Hotel in Palapye. Officially opening the event, the president of Botswana Ian Khama said it was his desire to engage with Batswana as it is through such interaction that he is able to appreciate the issues that his government could address. He said the interaction is a further illustration of his commitment to continuous dialogue and engagement with public service employees. “There is a need to reduce conflicts in the workplace and in the process facilitate constructive labour relations aimed at improving productivity so as to be better placed to serve the public. We need to ensure that we develop or improve and sharpen our skills for better implementation of processes that could lead to improved productivity and returns for the country and thus could translate to increases in salaries and a vibrant economy”.

He said for Botswana to achieve the desired status of a vibrant economy there is need to guard against issues of corruption, red tape and negative agendas. He advised that to build a professional, effective and globally competitive public service, there is need to collectively embrace principles like regard for public interest, neutrality, accountability, transparency, freedom from corruption, continuity, the duty to be informed and due diligence.

He informed the delegates that they should put the public first and strive towards providing excellent service at all times. He said the public is not happy with the services rendered to them by public officers therefore there is need to double efforts in the speed and quality of service to the public. He pointed out that his government is considering a review of the current performance management system with the view to towards building a robust system that will engender a high performance culture that will link pay to performance.

He advised the delegates to continue to uphold the Public Service Charter principle that points to neutrality by not being aligned to any political party.

“We cannot, as a nation, afford to have a politically inclined public service because such service will paralyse the public service and ultimately compromise national stability...The purpose of a union is to strive through negotiations, better Monday 1st to conditions of service for your members to a point that is

affordable. Political agendas bring about demands which are deliberately unrealistic and unaffordable in order to give to members the impression that the government is holding back. You are public servants in a public service, not political servants in a political service. You are engaged by government to serve Batswana.”

In closing he said the national budget was under pressure because there is need for roads, electricity, water, ARVs supplies, poverty eradication schemes and payments to orphans and destitutes. The cost of new projects run into tens of billions of Pulas so the government will pay what is affordable. He assured

the BOPEU membership that despite the limited resources and challenges Botswana face as a nation, his government is more than committed to BOPEU and all other public sector unions, in finding ways and means to improve the terms and conditions of employees in the public sector.

Addressing the union, BOPEU president Mr Motsamai said the convention came at the time when BOPEU was taking its proper place as the leading union in the Botswana labour front. He said the union is confident that Botswana’s economy can afford a worthy and decent public service salary increase without much

adverse effect on other budget variables. He pointed out that as public service employees, they face a number of challenges that undermine their productivity at work and worsen the state of their livelihoods. The challenges mentioned were the high cost of living which has become unaffordable to most public service

employees, the government’s delay in implementing a long made decision on housing allowance for public service employees, many public employees working in difficult conditions where there is shortage of accommodation and yet high quality service being expected of them and, the public service facing serious skills retention challenges due to failure to attract and retain some critical and specialised skills in the public service.

To address accommodation challenges for public service workers, the union has adopted a strategy of securing land in major town and cities with a dense concentration of their members. It has so far acquired land in Palapye, Morwa and Francistown. The union believes government could secure and

service strategic land along Lobatse-Gaborone, Francistown- Matsiloje and allocate part of the land to private property developers and unions to construct employee housing. He addedthat the public service bargaining council had done well in termsof resolving employee grievances and disputes.

The union is concerned about the stagnant case backlog at the Industrial Court; members often wait for three to four years for the court to pronounce on whether they were given a fair hearing or not, or to pronounce on whether they were dismissed procedurally or not. The union recommended that matters requiring little judicial sophistry and expertise, be referred for compulsory arbitration and thereafter any party that wishes to appeal could do so only under narrowly drawn grounds. The union is intending to organize a symposium in 2015 to obtain experts and public views on labour laws.

Giving a vote of thanks, the union’s deputy president said they needed to see the bargaining council functioning and doing its work without fear or political and external interference from the government. He also thanked the office of the president for inviting BOPEU to its office to discuss matters of interest to the workers and promised that they will honour the invite. Dr Patrick Molutsi of Human Resources Development Council said the skills quality in Botswana is not good. He advised the union not to be aligned to any particular party. He said since the year 2000 they have been developments like establishment of

BOFEPUSU, the public service act, a raised profile of the working people, unity among different levels of workers, political education and improvement of retrenchments packages. Presenting reasons why BOPEU should be non-partisan, he said there was no political consensus among member unions, public support wouldlikely to be minimal and that the political education of union members was still low. He went to say that the partisan position taken by BOFEPUSU did not look tenable from a strategic point of view because the trade unions were still weak and divided, and that the unionisation density was low. Dr Molutsi concluded that BOPEU should strengthen bargaining power through concerted negotiations, should promote trade union/worker education to improve productivity and justify salary increase, should intensify membership recruitment and to increase advocacy for better industrial democracy.

At the convention the general secretary’s report, the implementation of the constitution, the audited financial statements and the union budget were presented and discussed by the delegates.

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