Two days after Valentine’s Day, Sikalame Seitiso of the public sector unions will stare down government chief negotiator, Kebonye Moepeng and make a case for a “double digit” salary hike.
As Chief negotiator for the public sector union, Seitiso will not bring roses to the negotiating table as he leads a highly charged salary adjustment negotiations with government representatives expecting nothing less than 15 percent from government. On the other side of the table, Moepeng will with an unflinching eye, insist on a four percent salary increase arguing that the economy has not recovered fully and that inflation has been benign.
Seitiso and Moepeng lead a fragile Public Sector Bargaining Council (PSBC) and have been charged with the responsibility of negotiating salary adjustment for their respective institutions. Moepeng, according to sources closer to the tension filled negotiations, is considered no pushover, a trait she inherited from her former boss at the DPSM, Carter Morupisi. Botswana Guardian has been reliably informed that union representatives want nothing else but a double-digit adjustment, citing that their low disposable income has been drained by increasingly high standard of living.
Unions will propose a 15 percent adjustment to the public servants’ salaries, more than double the government offer. Negotiations, through the PSBC, will start in earnest this coming Monday and there will be no love in the air at the unspecified government office in Gaborone. Botswana Guardian can reveal that the PSBC, which is formed by the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) and representatives from the employer has already met this week and agreed on sparring terms. The negotiations follow Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo’s presentation of the 2015/2016 budget proposals last week, in which he announced a 5 percent growth rate down from the 5, 2 percent initially estimated by the Treasury. This is despite a projected budget surplus of P280.83 million.
Matambo was cautious last week to reveal much on the issue of salary increment for public servants, only saying government has made an offer to unions. Such an offer, he warned, is based on projected financial resources. It has since surfaced that team Moepeng will not propose an ambitious adjustment – nothing more than four percent – according to those who follow the sensitive salary negotiations. At 3.8 percent, inflation remains firmly within Bank of Botswana objective range and this will in a way throw a few spanners in Seitiso’s works as food and oil prices remain stable or are declining. But four percent will be viewed as peanuts by many workers who struggle to make ends meet on daily basis especially those at the bottom of A3 Scale. Efforts to reach union representatives could not bear fruits on Wednesday.
Other top officials from the unions refused to talk, fearing they could be seen to be negotiating through the media. The salary adjustment talks come at a time when government is currently running a tight budget, made even tighter by expected fall in mining revenue. Amidst all this, government has also announced plans to engage part time workers within the civil service. Affected ministries include among others education and skills development; minerals, energy and water resources; labour and home affairs. This begs the question: why then would government decide to increase wage bill? “Part time workers is not new in government. It is in the General Rules,” explained Director, Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) Ruth Maphorisa. The move, she said, is not a ‘desperate decision’ by government to create jobs, nor will it drastically push the wage bill. “The decision was taken on the basis that we spend more on overtimes for current government workers,” she said.
But she could not reveal a specific budget for the part-time workers exercise, as the fund will come from overtime allowances. “It runs into millions,” she said wryly when asked to give a clear picture of the amount government is likely to spend on part-time workers. The IMF has on several occasions, advised government to trim her bloated wage bill. Government spends more than P13 billion annually (about 10 percent of GDP) on her 130 000 employees. But Maphorisa argues that the increase in the wage bill will depend on the outcome of the salary negotiations. The wage bill will increase by P520 million to about P13.5 billion if unions and government settle for four percent salary hike. However, if unions have their way, the proposed adjustment will drive the wage bill to about P15 billion, a third of the total budget proposal for 2015/16.
The development would certainly annoy Christian Lagarde of the IMF who has asked government to implement some structural adjustments. Much like Maphorisa, Standard Chartered economist, Razia Khan, believes Lagarde’s advice is currently untenable. “Politically, reducing spending will be difficult,” stated Khan in a paper titled Botswana-Wanted: The ‘bling factor.’ President Ian Khama has been showered with accolades by the West for resisting pressure from the public servants to increase salaries. He recently mentioned that salary adjustment will only take place when the economy is fully recovered. Khama’s ‘frugal’ government last awarded civil servants a three percent salary increment in October 2012. Last year BOFEPUSU argued that they need to be protected against inflation, saying the high inflation rate due to the increase in some administered prices, namely public transport fares, electricity tariffs and fuel prices, has led to a decline of real salary value. They noted that this high inflation can therefore be mitigated by incentives, allowances and better pay.
Who is at the table?
1. There are about five public sector unions representing close to 90 000 of the total government workforce of 130 000. The five unions which include Botswana Land Boards and Local Authorities Workers Union (BLLAWU), Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU), Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and National Amalgamated Local Central Government and Parastatals Workers Union (NALCGPWU) form the umbrella body BOFEPUSU.
2. From the employer’s side the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) will lead the negotiations with a select number of negotiators. It is yet to be seen who will blink first at the Monday meeting.