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Parliamentary 'bouncers' court case and inquiry reveal...

South Africa

Employment disputes

Parliamentary ‘bouncers’ court case and inquiry reveal that labour practices not coming up roses

A picture made available on 18 May 2016 shows members of the EFF fighting with parliament security personnel prior to them being escorted from parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 17 May 2016. EPA/STR

Parliament’s fraught labour relations came into the open on Thursday when the Cape Town Labour Court heard pleadings in the complaint of 69 parliamentary protection officers against the better salary and employment conditions for the bouncers, or white shirts. It was a clinical legalistic hearing of just over 100 minutes - and if the judge agrees to a narrow definition of arbitrary as Parliament’s lawyers argued, it’s all over. Away from the public view, are other parliamentary labour relations snags.

It’s been a long road to get to Thursday’s labour court hearing. The 69 Parliamentary Protection Services (PPS) officers started their case in January 2017. That was some 16 months after the bouncers – officially, their job title is chamber support officers – were hired with significantly better pay of reportedly up to R150,000 a year, and better working conditions than the PPS members, many of whom had 20 or 25 years of service under their belt.

The bouncers’ recruitment from the SAPS into a re-jigged PPS organogram is tied to the rowdy and chaotic scenes that met former president Jacob Zuma in the House following the arrival of the 25 EFF MPs Parliament. At the end of July 2015 Parliament changed its rules on evicting unruly MPs from the House and on 5 August 2015 National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete wrote to leaders of political parties represented in Parliament to inform them “personnel has been recruited from the South African Police Service”.

The difference in earnings caused friction in the broader parliamentary precinct where labour relations were fraught as shown also by the late 2015 wildcat strike over performance bonuses and working conditions by National Education, Health and Allied Workers (Nehawu). The PPS officers’ legal proceedings in terms of arbitrary wage discrimination between employees who do substantially the same work was in the making unfolded over almost a year since September 2017 with various consultations and pre-trial meetings, until Thursday.

Whether the case goes on to trial, for which five days have been set aside, hinges on whether Judge Connie Prinsloo accepts the PPS officers’ argument of a wide interpretation of “arbitrary”. Effectively that it’s impossible to justify the wage differential with the bouncers’ better pay being “simply illogical” as Advocate Coen de Kock argued for the PPS officers. “We dispute they were better equipped… In fact, they do less work than existing employed PPS.”

It all ends, however, if the judge accepts Advocate Anton Myburgh’s argument for Parliament for a narrow interpretation of arbitrary.“You are being asked (to rule that) any illogical decision is discriminatory. That’s unbelievable.”

Judge Prinsloo reserved judgement on Thursday.

This unfolded amid other labour relations and staff matters bedevilling the national legislature.

An inquiry by the Public Service Commission (PSC), announced in a so-called “info alert” to staff on 8 November, would be under way into the 14 September suicide because of workplace bullying of Lennox Garane, a senior manager in Parliament’s international relations and protocol division.

Much of the details are not unknown, particularly after the official funeral pamphlet headed “It’s a protest suicide” was widely shared on social media. Parliament’s response in a statement on 25 September was to say it wished “to caution against the publishing of names of individuals in connection with untested allegations, as this borders on irresponsibility and may also be defamatory”.

However, the details including a dossier on the toxic workplace, as his brother Sithembiso Garane put it, emerged at the memorial service on 20 September. Held at Parliament, it was attended by acting Secretary to Parliament Baby Tyawa and Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli, who apologised: “We say to the family we are deeply sorry that you have to go through this. We apologise, we could have done things differently but we didn’t”, SABC reported at the time.

That Garane took his grievance and work-place related complaints – including being unilaterally moved to a position he previously indicated he did not want and sustained workplace bullying – all the way to the presiding officers Mbete and Modise on 17 May 2018 was confirmed by DA Deputy Chief Whip Mike Waters.

Waters in a statement on September 26, 2018 said Garane also had submitted documents on the various efforts to get his grievances resolved to the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament, the oversight committee for the national legislature running.

This desperate cry for help was never shared with members of the committee. The document details how Garane raised his concerns about his working conditions, but to no avail,” Waters said adding: “The only way to honour Garane’s memory is to ensure that the institutional failures at Parliament are acknowledged and addressed decisively.”

Two months after Garane’s suicide the Public Service Commission inquiry is under way. According to the info alert Daily Maverick has seen, Mbete and Modise have asked all staff “to co-operate, support and assist the investigators by providing relevant information”. Whether that would include the presiding officers, given Garane’s turning to them, remains unclear.

Parliament’s spokesperson Moloto Mothapo did not reply to a written request for comment that allowed a 48-hour period for responses. And so it also is not clear whether this inquiry into Garane’s suicide has to be completed by a certain time. Parliament rises in early December and returns only in early February 2019.

Garane’s family in a statement on 8 October, after a visit by the presiding officers, welcomed an independent inquiry, but also indicated that they were considering legal advice on this to, among other factors, ensure it would not be a farce.

We remain hopeful that this inquiry shall initiate the process of justice for our late father and also summarily address all forms of mismanagement and maladministration of our Parliament,”said the family statement. “It is highly concerning to us as a family that the individuals mentioned by Lennox Garane as the primary perpetrators in his (and many other staff members’) torment remain in their positions despite all available prima facie evidence of maladministration and/or dereliction of duty. We trust that Parliament will do all in their power to bring credibility in the looming inquiry, as well as ridding itself of rogue figures perpetrating injustices in its name.

Daily Maverick has seen documents related to the Garane matter that, while it could not be immediately ascertained whether these from his “dossier”, raise questions about the running of the international relations and protocol division where he was the multi-relations section manager.

Aside from Garane’s own bullying, the documents include claims of festering divisiveness among staff, victimisation and playing favourites, often backed up by specific examples. And there has been a financial cost – R60,930 in June 2018 – due to much delayed overseas travel accommodation costs.

Detailed written questions for comment, for which 48-hours were accorded, were not responded to by Mothapo.

And neither did Mothapo respond to questions regarding possible disciplinary steps against Secretary to the NCOP, Advocate Modibedi Eric Phindela following an internal labour dispute settlement over bullying and a promotion. Or whether Phindela’s removal from as acting deputy Secretary to Parliament: Core Business from Thursday 15 November was in any way linked to this labour case that found against him.

That Phindela would no longer act as the second deputy Secretary to Parliament, effectively a demotion, was announced in an info alert by Tyawa on 8 November, seen by Daily Maverick.

Documents to the labour dispute settlement of an individual and a group grievance against Phindela go against him, and Parliament, regarding unfair labour practices related to a promotion that was denied and failure to provide a reasonable explanation for this. “The manner in which (the employee, known to Daily Maverick) had to establish the fact that her application was unsuccessful is highly questionable and is the cause for red lights,” according to the labour dispute settlement’s conclusions and recommendations.

This case also dealt with bullying by Phindela, according to the documents: “I listened to evidence of these highly skilled professionals, who stated that many of them were on the verge of emotional breakdowns due to Advocate Phindela’s bullying tactics towards them, some of whom were highly embarrassed to allow me to view their medical certificates, confirming same.”

Aside from a recommendation to Parliament to change reporting lines to by-pass Phindela, it was also recommended he should face disciplinary action.

Parliament’s spokesperson Moloto Mothapo did not respond to this, and related written questions, over a 48-hour period.

Parliament is not quite coming up roses on the labour relations front. What will happen to the case of the 69 Parliamentary Protection Service officers is still in the making. After over 18 months, a little more patience seems required. DM

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