Unionists, sympathizers and members of the media left the Gaborone High Court in disbelief Wednesday morning.
Most of those present in courtroom No 3, presided over by Justice Key Dingake had come prepared to hear government heads of argument in a case that has once more pitted the biggest public service employer against public unions. But seconds after the session resumed, it emerged that government would not entertain any efforts to be embarrassed. Instead, government hurriedly agreed to settle the matter between Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) deputy secretary general, who is also secretary general of Botswana Land Board & Local Authorities & Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) Ketlhalefile Motshwegwe and the Director of Public Service Management (1st respondent), the Francistown City Council Town Clerk (2nd respondent) and Attorney General of Botswana (3rd respondent) out of court. Motshegwe, who has been seconded to BLLAHWU office, was not paid his June salary by his employer-Francistown City Council.
The win has been celebrated as a major victory for the workers and the right to unionise. But while the court order is something to celebrate, it appears that the respondents could have chickened out amid the realisation that they did not have any substantive evidence to back their claims. Presenting a united front, Tshiamo Rantao for the appellant read out in court a draft court order that stated that the applicant’s salary be reinstated by the 1st and 2nd respondents. Secondly that both parties had agreed that the applicant’s June 2014 salary shall be paid within 14 days from the day that the order was made. And lastly that the respondents are jointly and severally liable to pay the applicant’s costs of suits on a party and party scale, which costs are to be agreed or taxed. In the affidavit, the 1st respondent (Director of DPSM) claimed that Motshegwe’s secondment to (BLLAHWU) expired at the end of December 2013. DPSM also alleges that since he (Motshegwe) had not gone back to FCC, his secondment having come to an end, he was guilty of absconding from work.
Thirdly, the affidavit states that the 1st respondent did not confirm that the decision to withhold salaries was made by her, but that the 2nd respondent has confirmed that the decision was made by ‘it.” This according to Motshegwe is despite the fact that his employer is DPSM and not the 2nd respondent. An interesting dynamic however with the case was the respondent’s allegations that prior to taking the decision of stopping his salary, they were in the dark about the whereabouts of the appellant. Addressing this issue, Motshegwe pointed out in the affidavit that DPSM, his employer, admitted that he was never given a hearing before the decision was taken to withhold his salary was taken. Motshegwe pointed out that he was the Deputy Chief Negotiator for the Trade Union Party at the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). “The deponent to the affidavit, Mrs Kebonye Moepeng who states that she is the Acting Director of Public Service Management, is a member of the PSBC.
The PSBC met about five times this year and I have met her at least twice thereat. She has never advised me that I am required at the City of Francistown Council because my secondment had come to an end, nor has she ever suggested to me that the second respondent or the Director of DPSM were looking for me,” he said in his affidavit. He also said that Carter Morupisi, who is the substantive Director of DPSM, chairs the Botswana Public Service Officers Pension Fund Board of Trustees, which he (Motshegwe) is also a trustee. “We have met at the board meetings about six times this year alone. It can not come from him that he did not know my whereabouts,” he says.