BOPEU, BURS face off in court

Nicholas Mokwena
Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Botswana Public Service Employees Union (BOPEU) will next week Wednesday face off in court with Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) over its employees who were involved in a strike in 2015. 

The union representing some of the BURS workers who were involved in the strike that occurred in July 2015 is appealing a decision by Industrial Court dismissing its application challenging the legality of the BURS lockout notice on workers who took part in the strike. The Lock out notice meant that the said employees were affected by the ‘no work on pay rule’. 

The employees went on strike after BURS refused to give them 11 percent salary increase opting to offer 6 percent. The decision by the Industrial Court was upheld by the High Court. The union wants the Court of Appeal to review and reverse the decision. 

BOPEU had applied to the Industrial court seeking an order to declare the decision by BURS to force the workers on strike to sign letters of committal unlawful, irregular and or unfair. 

Justice Tapiwa Marumo of the Industrial Court had dismissed the application by the union noting that an employer is entitled to decide whether or not to allow employees returning from strike back to work, once it has established their reason for returning to work. She stated that BURS is entitled to compel all its returning employees to sign letters of commitment and any employee who refused to sign such a letter could be properly locked out and those locked out would be affected by the ‘no work, no pay ‘ rule.

Justice Marumo said although the workers are entitled to flow in and out of the strike as they wish, such a right was not absolute and had its own limitations which were premised on the right of the employer to protect its interest and operations. She stated that the amended notice to strike by the workers did not create a new dispute, independent of an already existing wage dispute between the two parties. 

The court indicated that there was a dispute of interest between the parties as contemplated by the Trade Dispute Act and the employer had complied with Section 39. BOPEU’s attorney Joe Akoonyatse had submitted before the Industrial court that the lockout notice was unlawful on several grounds. 

He argued that such notice failed to comply with Section 39 of the Trade Dispute Act. He argued that as the lockout notice was not in furtherance of any dispute of interest, then it was unlawful as it was precipitated by the decision to change strike tactics by the workers. 

The employers used the lockout as an action intended to prevent the workers from exercising the right to strike, Akoonyatse told the court.

BURS submitted that the lockout notice complied with all the legal requirements and was lawful. It was further argued that it would be wrong to go behind the lockout notice to raise extraneous issues that have no bearing on the legal requirements to be fulfilled. Striking BURS employees over salary increment in November 2015 instructed their union to call off completely the indefinite strike they participated in since July that year. 

The employees engaged in a strike after fallout with the employer on salary increment in which the workers demanded 11 percent while BURS remained unmoved at 6 percent. The employees would later agree to 6 percent only if there are other incentives such as up-keep allowance. 

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