Statistician General, Dr Burton Mguni and his entire executive management (EXCO) could soon be jailed for 60 days for disregarding a 2015 court order instructing that they desist from negotiating with staff in bad faith.
Further, court had ordered that Statistics Botswana (SB) management refrain from making unilateral decisions and issuing circulars to employees on matters that are still being negotiated with the trade union representing staff, Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU).
Through BOPEU, aggrieved SB employees have applied for civil imprisonment for the entire executive management and the Board Chairperson for breaching the 9th March 2015 court order. Should court grant the order for SB management to be incarcerated for 60 days for contempt of court, the upcoming 2021 population census and delimitation exercise of electoral constituencies will be thrown into jeopardy.
Dr Mguni is being sued alongside Chairperson of the Board of Directors -Letsema Motsemme, Deputy Statistician General -Malebogo Kerekang, Emang Gadise -Director Legal Services, Boikhutso Tekane -Director Corporate Services, Jubalani Makwanda -Manager Human Resource and Seakarea Rabalone -Finance Manager.
Statistics Botswana is currently conducting preliminary exercises, which will pave the way for a trial census in February 2021 ahead of the main census proper in August. The population census, which will then guide the delimitation of constituencies, is a critical source of information for development planning and many other uses as it provides updated demographics about Botswana population together with projections for the next 10 year cycle.
Back in 2014, BOPEU succesfully sued Statistics Botswana for negotiating in bad faith with staff after management unilaterally announced freezing of overtime allowances, citing budgetary constraints.
Court restrained SB management from carrying out or proceeding with the execution of a memo dated November 17, 2014 which was circulated to staff purporting to cancel overtime payments. Also, SB was forbidden from continuing to issue circulars to staff or any correspondence unilaterally amending terms and conditions of service without consulting with employees through their recognised trade union.
In 2019 BOPEU took the matter to the Industrial Court to force SB to comply. Industrial Court Judge Tapiwa Marumo, ruled in favor of the union directing SB management to immediately purge their contempt by complying with the order of court dated 9th March 2015.
In the event that SB management is failing to comply with the order, Judge Tapiwa ordered that management be committed to prison for period of 60 days as a sanction for their contempt. The industrial court order delivered on March 2019 interdicted the SB and its then chief executive Annah Majelantle from amending employees’ conditions of services without consulting with BOPEU. Dr Mguni was appointed Statistician General on 01 June 2018, replacing Majelantle.
Nothwithstanding the court order, which remains live to date, SB management recently came into contempt of court when they issued a staff circular No.19 of 2020 dated October 22, 2020 for the implementation of Inflationary Adjustments to non-unionized staff. The announcement was made while SB management is still involved in protracted negotiations with BOPEU where there is disagreement over the percentage adjustment to offer different cadres in the parastatal.
Through a Management Position paper dated 14 August 2020, SB had informed BOPEU that negotiations relating to allowances will be deffered pending the ongoing review process (court case). In view of prevailing economic conditions and the advent of covid19, which forced government to cut budgets for its entities to divert to fighting the scourge, SB Management offered middle management and technicians a 10% salary adjustment. Clerical staff was also offered 10% adjustment. “Those in management and outside the union constituency will have their salaries adjusted by 6% accordingly,” read part of the position paper signed by Jabulani Dick Makwanda.
In a surprise turn of events, a week later on 25 August 2020, SB Management somersaulted on the offer cutting an earlier offer of 10% increase for middle management and technicians (Bands STB 5,6,7 and 8) to just 6%. Consequently, on September 03, 2020, BOPEU lodged a dispute before the Commissioner of Labour accusing Statistics Botswana management of failure to bargain on good faith, non-adherence and non-compliance to the collective bargaining agreement on the 2020/21 salary negotiations. The union also accused management of unilateral change of offer on the 2020/21 salary negotiations.
Makwanda said staff costs, both direct and indirect for the last financial year, constituted 77% of total re-current budget and only 23% went to the business, emphasizing that this situation is not suitable.
“The Union would like to express its utmost displeasure on management’s lack of adherence to the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) and the principles that guide good faith and bargaining practice,” fumed BOPEU Secretary General Kaboyaone Sedimo in letter addressed to Dr Mguni.
He said the union’s position was based on the Management’s initial proposal that had factored in all costs. “Changing your position at this time is not only detrimental to ours but it disrupts the very nature and process of our negotiation. One of the reasons of which is how our position emanates from our members’ mandate,” he added.
Sedimo maintained that they believe that the position paper tabled by Management on the 14 August 2020 was based on good faith and adequate scrutiny of Statistics Botswana financials.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was Circular No.19 of 2020 (issued on 22 October 2020) for the implementation of the Inflationary Adjustments to non-unionised staff members.
BOPEU president, Olefile Monakwe, immediately objected to the Savingram at the Industrial court, raising alert that management was in contempt of the court order made earlier. “It would be unlawful and contrary to the rule of law and the judgment of this court for the Board to give mandate for issuing of a Staff Circular No 19 of 2020 for the implementation of the Inflationary Adjustments to non-unionised staff members whilst the negotiation process is ongoing,” Monakwe said in an affidavit, adding that this amounts to SB management negotiating in bad faith.
He buttressed that the court has cautioned Statustuics Botswana management repeatedly to desist from unilateral Staff Circulars in matters where the two parties are bound to work together. SB management and staff have been at loggerheads for many years with staff challenging in court and winning in many instances against SB on issues of conditions of service.
Senior Corporate Communication Officer at SB Themba Sibanda could not be drawn into discussing the matter when reached for comment, saying he has been seconded to the Census Project. He directed this publication to his communications colleague Jimmy George whom he said is responsible for all media enquiries but his mobile phone was unavailable at the time of going to print late Friday.