May 17, 2011

Government threatens to dismiss striking doctors / Schools closed amid violence

Government has purported to fire all striking essential services workers, among them doctors, nurses, and pharmacy technicians, after they refused to heed its ultimatum to resume duties. However the workers have not received letters of dismissal as government says the letters will be ready in five days, according to a Btv news bulletin.

Last week government ordered essential services workers to resume duties or face dismissal; among them were doctors who downed stethoscopes in demand for a 16% pay rise and better working conditions. The warning followed a court ruling that the workers should not be on strike. The workers have through the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), appealed the decision of the Industrial Court. The essential services workers have however insisted that they will not resume duties.

BOFEPUSU publicity secretary Goretse Kekgonegile said that the union conglomerate is unfazed by the state's 'intimidation tactics'. "As far as our labour laws are concerned, there is a set process for dismissals. A person has to be called to a disciplinary hearing, and the disciplinary process followed. Our members have not been called to any hearing. We are only hearing this from radio and television. We take this as intimidation by government and don't take the announcement seriously. However if government is serious we will protect our members. If this is a political decision, and it appears to be, we will find a political situation to it," said Kekgonegile who added that the workers numbered several hundred. Kekgonegile said that government was making the situation worse as now public service employees who have not been on strike are likely to realise that government takes them for granted.

"Those essential services workers who have been going to work, and indeed the non-essential workers are likely to now go on strike because they will not want government to take their professions and lives for granted." The employment Act lists essential services as those in health such as doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, pharmacy technicians, switchboard operators, those in water services such as pumpers, borehole engineers; those in electrical services such as refrigeration engineers, boilermakers and mechanics; sewerage engineers and technicians and firemen and paramedics.

Before, government had closed all primary and secondary schools after violent clashes between police and students angry over a strike by teachers and other public workers. The violence began at a secondary school in Molepolole, a village 60km south-east of the capital Gaborone, and spread to schools across the country, prompting Education Minister Pelonomu Venson Moitoi to close schools indefinitely. “We have a number of students in police custody who were arrested for violence and vandalism. They were arrested this afternoon after they turned violent during their protest,” said police spokesperson Dipheko Motube. The education minister said in a statement the closure was needed to “safeguard the security of students, staff and government property”.

Students have missed most of their classes since teachers and other public-sector workers went on strike on April 18. Protesting students have gone on a rampage, demanding the government put an end to the strike. “When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers,” one student said. “We are tired of being taken for granted... The government has been silent about the situation in schools yet there are no teachers to teach.” (Mmegi Online/Sapa)

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