South Africa

Politics, South Africa

Why do workers want to make Parliament ‘ungovernable’?

Why do workers want to make Parliament ‘ungovernable’?

Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana says there is no fight with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu). “If they want to fight, they fight with themselves,” he said on Friday, three days after Nehawu vowed to make it “ungovernable” over disputes over performance bonuses and conditions of service since last year’s unprotected strike. Nehawu says Mgidlana must be removed because he is selectively implementing agreements; the Secretary to Parliament says management is only doing its job. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is involved. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

There has been bad blood in Parliament between staff and management for months. Nehawu, which represents 981 of 1,389 parliamentary employees, in November last year embarked on an unprotected strike over performance bonuses and conditions of employment. Parliament’s administration called in the police, who fired stun and smoke grenades before MPs intervened in the stand-off. It then obtained an interdict which relocated the pickets outside the gates of the national legislature. The unprotected strike ended with a return to work agreement in early December 2015.

Since then a number of issues remain unresolved, even as the CCMA was approached for facilitation some five months ago. That process to date has failed to resolve matters which include: Parliament’s failure to pay performance bonuses to 480 Nehawu members; the marking down of performance assessments, which are the basis of bonuses, by parliamentary senior managers; victimising junior managers and failure to implement the suspension of state security vetting, and the reversal of February’s deduction under the no work, no rule principle.

Earlier last week Nehawu president Mzwandile Makwayiba and deputy general secretary Zola Saphetha were in Cape Town to take up the cudgels for their largest Western Cape branch. Mgidlana must go, they said. He was selectively implementing various agreements, they said. Without a positive response on these matters, “the union shall be left with no option but to render the institution ungovernable and service unworkable”, said Saphetha.

On Friday Mgidlana, accompanied by Parliament’s senior management team, rejected Nehawu’s claims he had acted in bad faith. The union’s claims were “devoid of truth, misleading to staff…and misleading to the public”.

Management is not at war with staff. It is not in our frame of mind…It is not part of our orientation,” said Mgidlana. “We take our management responsibility seriously. The South African public demands no less and indeed they don’t deserve less.”

Parliament was implementing the agreements, he said, adding it was not correct to say management reneged on a 10% salary raise as there was no such raise.

The June 2015 multi-term substantive agreement between Parliament and Nehawu, in clause 3.2., states that the salary increases for the 2016/17 financial year would be the consumer price index (CPI) “as determined by Statistics South Africa” plus 3%. In March Statistics South Africa, which publishes monthly CPI figures, put inflation at 7%.

However, on 7 April Parliament’s human resources executive Lizo Makele wrote to Nehawu (the memo was seen by Daily Maverick), saying a 9.4% increase was due. This was based on calculating a 6.4% average CPI on the basis of projections from South Africa’s four commercial banks, the National Treasury, the South African Reserve Bank and the Bureau of Economic Research, plus 3%. The list of institutions Parliament used for its calculations did not include Statistics South Africa.

On Friday Mgidlana said this approach was best management practice. “You want to check what other institutions are saying. It’s called benchmarking…It’s an acceptable practice. You are not giving an increase for a month; you are giving an increase for a year.”

He pointed out that Nehawu had agreed to this increase and made the union letter available for “inspection”. Daily Maverick took a look. Dated 11 April, the union letter accepted the 9.4% salary increase following a workers’ meeting. But that is not the end of it.

However, notwithstanding the said acceptance, workers took serious exception to the fact that you took a unilateral decision to approach the presiding officers with the proposal (without consulting the union),” Nehawu says before going on to highlight the “unilateral” 8.4% salary increase for non-unionised workers (many of them already the least paid), and raising unresolved issues such as the marking down of performance scores by parliamentary senior managers.

On Tuesday that performance assessment revision is going to the CCMA for facilitation.

Daily Maverick has seen Parliament’s performance assessment policy, effective from 1 July 2006. It sets out an assessment process for managers – defined as “head of division, section, unit office, supervisor or controller” – who are included in the definition of employees. The policy also provides for an appeals committee, should there be a dispute over assessments.

No such appeals processes were followed after Parliament’s senior managers marked down performance assessments in December 2015. However, on Friday Mgidlana appeared to confirm that some Nehawu members were “not paid (bonuses) following moderation”, but asserted his administration’s right to moderate assessments.

Of the 480 Nehawu members who did not receive performance bonuses, Mgidlana excluded about 300 D-band employees, whom he regards as managers. As such they did not qualify because a decision was taken last year that managers would not receive such payments.

However, not all D-band employees are managers. This level includes content advisers (specialists in a particular knowledge area who work for committees alongside committee secretaries), procedural officers and legal advisers. These categories of employees report to unit, section or division heads, who in Parliament’s performance assessment policy are defined as the managers. It remains unclear why the Secretary to Parliament considers content advisers as managers. “They manage their committees,” he said at one stage, although he revised this to say they have a “supervisory role”.

On 25 May the issue of the D-band employees goes to the CCMA for facilitation.

Perhaps this meeting will also ventilate Mgidlana’s view on the ethics, professionalism and even feasibility of “managers” to be union members. While not disputing the right of association, Mgidlana said, “the question that we have to ask, to confront, is (whether) that is desirable? Is there no conflict of interest?”

After five months of CCMA facilitation on various disputes, labour relations at Parliament remain a messy affair. It has raised hackles among many parliamentary staff, regardless of whether they are white-collar workers in the committee, documents or translation units, or blue-collar cleaners. DM

Photo: Preparations for SONA 2015. (Greg Nicolson)


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