The indefinite strike at Botswana Unified Revenue Services has now descended into an all-out war between the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and the tax agency. After BOPEU changed its tactics on the strike to make the employer feel its effects, BURS has now resorted to serving the striking employees the same medicine. This has forced BOPEU to approach the Industrial Court for intervention as a matter of urgency.
The case has been set for next week Tuesday for arguments. BOPEU changed the tactics a fortnight ago after the 14 days of strike elapsed. A new agreement on how the strike will continue has been agreed between BOPEU and BURS management in terms of Section 39 of the Trade Dispute Act. BOPEU was represented by Andrew Motsamai while BURS was represented by Commissioner General Keneilwe Morris. BURS employees who are BOPEU members will engage in a go slow followed by a sit in and a work to rule approach every day and there will be a total withdraw of labour twice a month and the strike will still be indefinite.
The strategy according to BOPEU was to ensure that the employer cannot replace labour because under the labour law if employees go on strike for more than 14 days, the employer can replace labour. Following this BURS then issued binding forms to those who wish to return to work. The employer would later lock out the employees. A letter from BURS Director of Human Resources Ms Pelaleo informs those wishing to voluntarily return to work to sign a form with the undertaking; “I confirm that I wish to voluntarily approach management with a view to return to work.
I accept that BURS will only allow me back to under the following conditions, that; I shall not be seen in any manner to be participating in a go slow during working hours; my access to BURS facilities shall be reinstated; I shall not interfere with the security of BURS facilities either electronically or others; the BURS General Conditions of Service shall continue to apply to me and I advise that I understand the above conditions and accept to be bound by them in full.”The BOPEU attorneys in a letter dated August 5th 2015 said the contents of the letter are unlawful as BOPEU has on many past occasions implored BURS management not to deal directly with the union members. BOPEU argues in its court papers that the decision by BURS to require written undertaking from employees is unlawful and invalid. The union also states that the lock out notice is untoward and unlawful. The union wants these decisions to be declared unlawful and nullified by the court. However BURS Commissioner General, Keneilwe Morris says the written undertaking by the employees is lawful, valid and enforceable in this circumstance. Morris stated in court papers that there is nothing untoward with the timing of the issuing of the lock out notice.
Morris says BURS is entitled by operation of law to opt for a lock out provided that such lock out is in accordance with the provision of the Trade Dispute Act. “The respondent has now exercised its rights under the Act by issuing the appropriate notice. Such notice meets all the requirements of Section 39. Nothing in the Act requires any justification or reason for an employer to resort to a lock out provided that a dispute which was subject to a mediation process in terms of Section 39 could not be resolved in terms thereof and a certificate issued by the mediator to that effect. Once the above is satisfied and other requirements of the section are met, then BURS was entitled to issue the notice”, states the Commissioner General.Morris further denied that the alleged dispute between BURS and BOPEU has any impact in the BURS’ ability or right to issue a lock out notice.
He said neither do the Strike Rules prevent the issuing of the lock out notice provided, “It satisfied the requirements of the Act, which I submit it did. The Dispute which led to the issuing of the certificate by the mediator is one of interest and once that is established, then the respondent is entitled to pursue a lock out subject to satisfying other requirements set out in section 39”. BOPEU has since met with the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) on the salary negotiation deadlock. UDC has since called on government to listen to the employees to agree on an amicable solution. BDP allegedly approached President Ian Khama for intervention but this was dismissed by BDP Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane, in an interview with Botswana Guardian.
Ntuane said the BDP Labour Committee met with both BOPEU and BURS last week. “We are going to meet BOPEU again because it is an ongoing process. It is not true that we were turned down by President Khama on the issue let alone met him. We are trying to organise a meeting with BOPEU again and until we have concluded the matter we cannot divulge what was discussed with the concerned parties because the issue is still confidential,” said Ntuane. BURS employees engaged in an industrial action late last month after BOPEU and the employer reached a deadlock in their salary increment negotiations. BOPEU has proposed an 11 percent increment while BURS stays unmoved at 6 percent. The employer has reiterated that it is aligning its increment with that of the rest of the public service. The Parastatal has been established to asses and collect taxes on behalf of government.