- Minister wants to see how unions use their money
- Unions tell Minister to mind his own business or face court action
- Unions say Minister wants to check if they sponsor opposition parties
Trade Unions in Botswana have warned Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development Tshenolo Mabeo to stay away from their financial dealings or risk legal action.
On 19th February, Mabeo issued a public statement through his Permanent Secretary Pearl Ramokoba announcing his intention to conduct an inspection of books or documents of trade unions federations in accordance with Section 49 (1) and (2) of the Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act.
The minister said the purpose for the inspection is to satisfy himself that the financials of these trade unions are conducted in a manner that is in conformity with the laws and are beneficial to the interest of members.
The unions listed for inspection by the minister are Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU), National Amalgamated Locals, Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU), Botswana Government Workers Union (BGWU), Botswana Land-board and Local Authorities Health Workers Union(BLLAHWU), Botswana Sectors of Education Trade Unions(BOSETU) and Botswana Federation of Public Sectors Unions(BOFEPUSU).
The minister’s intentions have however been met with fierce resistance from the trade unions as they are of the view the minister is poking his nose in matters that do not fall under his authority.
Speaking to the Botswana Gazette from Turin, Italy where he is currently studying, BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said what Mabeo seeks to do is against International Labour Convention 89, on freedom of Association. ‘‘The Convention states that Trade Unions should be independent of Government, and Government must stay away from Trade Unions. Trade Unions have their own checks and balances, and instruments of good Governance. They do annual audits through BICA regulated professional auditors, and the audited financial reports are submitted to Union Conference for members to introspect them, after that annual returns are sent to the Registrar of Trade Unions,’’ Motshegwa explained.
The veteran unionist also confirmed that they have written to Mabeo to advise him that his intended move is not only against I.L.O Conventions but it is further against the Constitution of Botswana which talks about freedom of Association which is inclusive of unionisation.
‘‘We have further informed Mabeo that should he press ahead, we will approach the Courts of law, and we have already reported the matter to I.L.O,’’ Motshegwa warned.
He said what the minister is attempting to do is abuse of political office and corruption, ‘‘because he seeks to use public office to check whether unions are sponsoring rivals of his political party’’. Motshegwa further said the minister should then be in a position to inspect books of political parties ‘‘because we hear political parties are violating the law as they don’t submit annual returns to Registrar of Society, and this is inclusive of BDP which its books don’t reflect its donors’’. This publication is in possession of the report submitted to ILO by BOFEPUSU on government’s interference with the independence of trade unions.
Section 49 (1) and (2) of the Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act that Mabeo relies on provides that the minister may, whenever he considers it necessary in the public interest to do, by notice in the Government Gazette, call on any registered trade union to produce for his inspection or for the inspection of any person so authorised in the notice, all or any of the books or documents of the trade union.
(2) where in relation to any registered trade union it appears to the minister that- (c) that the affairs of the trade union are being conducted in a manner prejudicial to the financial interest of their members thereof, he may by notice published in the Gazette, call on the trade union to produce for his inspection or the inspection of another person so authorised in the notice, all or any of the books and documents of the union or to furnish in writing such information or explanation as may be specified in the notice.
BOFEPUSU however contend that ‘‘It is the view of the trade unions that such inspection interferes one way or the other with the running and independence of trade unions and therefore in contravention with Convention 87 Article 3 (2) which states that the public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof’’. Meanwhile BOFEPUSU has submitted a 17-page report to ILO titled; BOFEPESU REPORT TO ILO GOVERNING BODY RELATING TO FAILURE BY BOTSWANA GOVERNMENT TO COMPLY WITH RECOMMENDATION FROM COMMITTEE ON THE APPLICATION OF STANDARDS.
In July 2017, BOFEPUSU, Business Botswana and BFTU lodged a complaint with the International Labour Conference relating to violation of Conventions 87 and 98 by the Government of Botswana. In return, the committee on the Application of Standards, through case no. C.App./PV.20 of 2017 held in favour of the workers’ organisations and requested the Government of Botswana to report back in November 2017 on the compliance on the said recommendations. Minister Mabeo was not available for comment at the time of going for press.