Senior police officers want a union

Senior police officers want members of the Botswana Police Service to be allowed to form a union that will help review their welfare and negotiate their salaries. Those who spoke to The Gazette on condition of anonymity after the 42nd annual Senior Police Officers’ conference Gaborone a fortnight ago said the welfare of the police officers must rank high for them to perform better.

They are of the view that forming a union would be a great deal for them as they will be  able to voice out their concerns. They said that their salaries are low compared to those of other civil servants who are enjoying the benefits of being union members. “Here it takes a long time for one to be promoted to higher rankings and the manner in which the promotions are done is questionable,” they said.

The Commissioner of Police, Keabetswe Makgophe opposes the idea of forming a police union. “As police officers, we do not want to form a union. We value the integrity of our profession and we hope that the government will continue supporting us. I do not have a problem with unions or what they are doing but it cannot happen for us to form a union because we have a duty to protect our country and make sure law and order is prevailing. We do not want a situation whereby when citizens come to us to seek help, they find that police officers are on strike,” he explained.

Reached for comment, Deputy Secretary General of Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said they raised the issue with government last year in June when they returned from the International Labour Organisations (ILO) conference. “Our take is on two spheres, what the law says and the international practice. If you go to a country such as South Africa, they have unions for police and prison officers, Lesotho has an association for police and Zambia as well. As per stipulations of ILO, they raised concerns last year at the conference about Botswana on why police and prisons officers are not allowed to form unions,” said Motshegwa.

Furthermore, he said that the police and prisons officers also need to have a structure where they meet and talk about their grievances. This could help to bring social dialogue, which brings healthy relations in the workplace. “Normally, when we talk about unions, people think about strike and being disruptive, but we are meant to enhance social dialogue and bargaining. If they cannot have a union, they should have a professional body where their grievances will be heard,” explained Motshegwa.

He added that if the police are aggrieved and there are no structures to voice their concerns, they might become demotivated and fail in their job of enforcing law and order. “Their working conditions are very poor, their salaries, housing, the level of progression and promotion within the police is very poor. One can be a constable for six to ten years without promotion or being sent for further studies,” said Motshegwa.

He also said that in 2009 they organized a symposium with Botswana Police leadership of to discuss the issue. “The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) from South Africa was invited to share with them about the importance of union in police and they seemed to understand what we were talking about,” Motshegwa said, adding that they will continue to engage  the current leadership on the issue.

Former Police Commissioner, Norman Moleboge also does not support the idea of the police forming a union, saying the police is a disciplined force and that, unions cause constant conflict between its members and the management.