South Africa

Politics, South Africa

Mgidlana, ‘Parliament’s Hlaudi’: Nehawu asks Public Protector to probe ‘flagrant violations’ of financial management act

Mgidlana, ‘Parliament’s Hlaudi’: Nehawu asks Public Protector to probe ‘flagrant violations’ of financial management act

The Western Cape National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) on Monday asked the Public Protector to investigate a complaint of maladministration against the Secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana. The complaint, citing “flagrant violations” of the Financial Management of Parliament Act, was handed over to the provincial Public Protector representative Sune Griessel under the watchful eye of police and traffic officials. It’s the latest in the soured labour relations at Parliament – alongside renewed vows to make the institution “ungovernable” – as grievances over performance bonuses and working conditions remain unresolved in the seven months since Nehawu’s unprotected strike. But Parliament maintained Nehawu is pushing an agenda “beyond the realm of labour relations”. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

Mgidlana is to Parliament what Chief Operations Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng is to the SABC. That’s the sentiment expressed by several parliamentary workers, verbally and on placards, during Monday’s slow walk of a march at lunch time through busy central Cape Town from Parliament up the road to the Western Cape Public Protector’s office. Or as Western Cape Nehawu secretary Eric Kweleta put it at the handover: “We are not scared of Mgidlana. Mgidlana is the Hlaudi of Parliament”.

While the ANC now has spoken out against the shenanigans at the public broadcaster – censorship, or the banning of visuals of burning property during community protests was not ANC policy, the governing party reiterated – the silence around Mgidlana’s antics at Parliament has baffled the union.

Nehawu’s concerns, now subject of its complaint to the Public Protector, include:

  • Mgidlana’s failure to fully implement agreed collective bargaining and other labour agreements,;
  • Last year’s benchmarking trips to the parliaments of Turkey, Scotland and UK that he and a handful of other top administrators undertook at a cost of R1.8-million on the authority of a junior staffer in his office;
  • Mgidlana’s wife unnecessarily accompanying him at Parliament’s expense on various other travels, and,
  • Just three months into the job, his receipt of a R71,000 ex gratia payment meant for staff who had worked the whole year.

Nehawu also has raised questions as to why Mgidlana remained in his job despite having “failed a top secret security clearance vetting”.

“The silence of the ANC is deafening,” said Kweleta at a briefing before Monday’s march. “We want to know (from the ANC): if it can be so vocal with the SABC, why are they so quiet with Parliament?”

Nehawu finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place, politically speaking. As part of labour federation Cosatu, it is part of the tripartite alliance with the governing ANC. National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete is also the governing party’s national chairwoman. Yet none of the political back channels – like the series of meetings between the presiding officers, including Mbete, and Nehawu president Mzwandile Makwayiba – that should have helped break the labour deadlock has resolved the situation.

And so, instead of doing 67 minutes for Madiba on Monday’s International Mandela Day or campaigning for the ANC, for which union officials on Monday said they will vote in line with union and federation resolutions, Nehawu headed to the Public Protector’s Cape Town offices.

Parliament’s response on Monday evening was to argue again, as it did in mid-May and at other times, that Nehawu was pushing a political agenda and that, on genuine workplace grievances, the administration was ready to engage.

“The agenda which Nehawu is currently pursuing is beyond the realm of labour relations. There are no shop-floor issues which have been raised. The agenda of the local branch of Nehawu has taken a form of pursuing a personal agenda, character assassination and has assumed political motives,” Parliament said in a statement on Monday evening, describing the complaint to the Public Protector as “unprecedented”.

And Parliament pointed out that Nehawu lost its case before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) with regards to the adjustment of performance scores which subsequently affected payment of performance bonuses. It was one of the issues for the mutually-agreed facilitation following late last year’s unprotected strike, alongside subsequent union grievances which include not paying bonuses to D-band employees – Parliament decided to deem them managers and thus not eligible for bonuses – and the failure to reverse the wage deduction in March under the “no work, no pay” principle. According to Parliament, on the performance scores matter, the CCMA found no evidence that the national legislature had acted irrationally, arbitrarily, with bias, or had failed to apply its mind.

Nehawu’s parliamentary branch is the largest in the Western Cape and represents more than 1,000 of the national legislature’s 1,389 employees, including senior white-collar workers in the committee, documents and translation services and those cleaning and catering staff not outsourced.

What seems to have broken the camel’s back are last month’s disciplinary charges against five Nehawu members, and two suspensions, and the continued failure to implement agreed collective and other labour relations agreements.

Late in June, Parliament brought disciplinary charges for gross misconduct against five Nehawu members, including its parliamentary branch chairman Sthembiso Tembe and two shop stewards. Tembe and a Nehawu member, whose name is known to Daily Maverick, were subsequently also suspended from work. This came after two abandoned staff meetings called by Mgidlana over three days when the union raised its concerns over how the meetings were conducted and the state of labour relations.

Monday’s vow to bring ungovernability to Parliament by Kweleta means Nehawu in the Western Cape is following in the footsteps of Nehawu national office-bearers. “Failure to secure a quick response favourable to our members in particular, and workers in general, the union shall be left with no option but to render the institution ungovernable and service unworkable,” said Nehawu deputy general-secretary Zola Sapetha in early May in relation to a demand for the presiding officers to take action against Mgidlana.

Strike action and making Parliament ungovernable were not implemented then as the 14-day deadline for action against Mgidlana coincided with MPs’ departure from the national legislature for the local government electioneering “constituency period”. But it’s all back in play.

“We might be perceived sometimes to be slow, but we are a very disciplined organisation which doesn’t believe in kicking an open door,” said Kweleta, adding that the complaint to the provincial Public Protector’s office was part of the union’s “revolutionary programme”.

“We will make Parliament ungovernable,” said Kweleta, later adding: “As the (Nehawu) leadership in this province, we find it very perplexing for the presiding officers or the ANC not to act against this man, hence we resolved to devise our own strategies in resolving these matters.”

Amid plans for pickets and marches, the first port of call on Monday was the Western Cape Public Protector’s office. There the provincial representative said the office would now evaluate and assess Nehawu’s complaint. There may also be a need for a follow-up consultation meeting. “If needed, we will get back to you (Nehawu) within the next week,” said Griessel.

The Public Protector’s office will make its decision according to its criteria. But regardless of that, at Parliament the stand-off between workers represented by Nehawu and the administration remains a high-stakes political poker game. DM

Main photo: Nehawu on Monday 18 July marched at lunch time through busy central Cape Town from Parliament up the road to the Western Cape Public Protector’s office. All photos by Marianne Merten.


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