Despite a case pending at the Gaborone Industrial Court, the retrenchment of staff at the Botswana Railways is finally going ahead with staff members getting notification letters this past Monday.
This happens when the Botswana Railways Amalgamated Workers Union is in its most difficult position ever. Although it is opposed to the manner in which the exercise is being undertaken, two of its officials are members of the transition team which is putting finishing touches to the retrenchment. This membership is tacit endorsement of an exercise that the union is officially against and has no practical benefit for BRAWU because these officials are enjoined by confidentiality rules from sharing what is discussed at meetings with their comrades.
“This doesn’t mean that we agree to what management is doing but the process will go on with or without our input. It is better to be part of the process to at least observe how it is done,” says a BRAWU official speaking on condition of anonymity
However, the union has not given up hope that the industrial Court can come to its rescue as it did late last year when it reversed the retrenchment process. Two months ago, former Commissioner of Labour, Thembo Lebang, acting as arbitrator, issued an award that favours BR. In terms of this award, the organisation is to pay the total exit package to union members as already paid out to non-union members but maintain the capping principle at no more than 20 years of service. It will also pay involuntary-exit employees 10 percent less the total package. BR had proposed to cut the involuntary exit package by 25 percent but Lebang, adjudged the difference “just too large” and chopped 15 percent off.
BRAWU was given 14 days to appeal Lebang’s decision but on the advice of its lawyer, elected to instead have it reviewed by the Industrial Court. The 14-day time limit applies to the appeal and not review process. In the review affidavit that has been submitted to the Commissioner of Labour, Lebang is cited as the first respondent and BR the second. The union hopes that its lawyer can pick apart the award and convince the court to alter the capping principle to something a bit more generous. Some employees have been with the organisation for longer than 20 years but in terms of Lebang’s award, will only be compensated for more than 20 of those years.
At this point, the date for the Industrial Court case has yet to be set. In terms of the law, the pending court case cannot stop BR from ahead with the retrenchment exercise.