STRIKING South African parliamentary staff on Friday said they would no longer negotiate with the unpopular secretary of the legislature Gengezi Mgidlana and demanded he be removed from his position.
The branch chairman of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), Sthembiso Tembe, accused Mgidlana of inflating his own salary while illegally deducting the pay of hundreds of striking workers for the past week in which their strike action has seen portfolio committee meetings cancelled and the police fire stun grenades to break up protests.
Tembe told hundreds of cheering NEHAWU members packed into the Old Assembly chamber at Parliament in Pretoria: ‘He’s greedy, he’s stealing from the public.’ He added: ‘He’s lost our respect and we are not going to respect anything he says because he does not respect us. He is not fit to be the secretary of Parliament.’
‘He has deducted our salary for the days that we have been involved in this,’ he said, stressing that in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Mgidlana had no right to do so. Tembe said the striking staff would now demand to negotiate directly with Parliament’s presiding officers.
He also accused Mgidlana of lying by suggesting that a series of meetings this week with NEHAWU leaders had made progress towards resolving the labour dispute over salary and pension benefits. There has been no progress, and NEHAWU would continue the strike until its demands were met, Tembe said.
More than a dozen police vehicles were stationed outside Parliament on Friday morning and gates were chained and padlocked. Parliament issued a statement accusing the strikers of planning violence against MPs and reiterated that Parliament had obtained an interim interdict against staff during the week and that the strike had been declared illegal by the labour court.
The strikers said they did not recognise any interdict to stop them from protesting at Parliament.
While talks between NEHAWU and Parliament’s management had continued on Thursday, workers were told at a mass meeting in the old National Assembly building management was acting in bad faith.
‘The struggle continues,’ NEHAWU’s deputy chairperson at Parliament, Disang Mocumi, told strikers holding up holding A4 papers that read ‘Injure one Injure All’. Mocumi said their managers had tried to intimidate them, had deducted money from their pay, and had set the police on them. ‘It didn’t work,’ he said.
Earlier, secretary of the legislature Mgidlana had told media that Parliament did not have the R50m it would cost to pay bonuses to the scale employees wanted. Mocumi said: ‘The 2014/15 agreement was signed in March, and our dispute over performance bonuses emanates from that. They are portraying us as bringing a new demand and so we will clarify the lies in the media with a media briefing at 10:30.’
He noted complaints that not everybody had had pay docked and viewed this is a dividing tactic. NEHAWU’s Parliament branch chairperson Tembe said: ‘Workers were assaulted yesterday (Wednesday) by riot police based on an invalid interdict. In fact that was never valid because it was temporary. The union was never given an opportunity to oppose it and it had expired.’
He was referring to a 2010 interdict revived against NEHAWU. Parliament’s secretary Mgidlana also said on Wednesday another interdict had been obtained, because protesters had allegedly violated the Powers, Privileges and Immunities Act by disrupting the work of Parliament.
One of the protesters said at Thursday’s mass meeting they were traumatised to the extent some were feeling sick. She wanted management to explain why ‘they called in the riot squad’, something she did not think she would experience. There were also concerns over their next pay packet with one woman saying three days had already been deducted from her salary, in line with the ‘no work no pay’ threat.
On Thursday, as well as condemning the refusal to pay bonuses, Tembe said outsourcing of workers at parliament should also end and they should be permanently employed by the institution. Another protester said the least they expected was decency from human resources and from the very people for whom they put up election posters.
Tembe also disputed this was the first time NEHAWU had a multi-term agreement only renegotiable in 2017. Stun grenades were used to disperse around 200 striking parliamentary workers outside the National Council of Provinces on Wednesday morning. NEHAWU strikers tried to stand their ground, and chanted ‘we work here’ as scuffles ensued. The air was acrid with teargas as officers chased after people, and screams were heard.
• Farmers across South Africa are losing livestock due to the current drought which may force government to import maize and wheat into the country, Agriculture Minister, Senzeni Zokwana, said on Friday. Stats SA notes that the sector contracted by 17 per cent quarter on quarter largely due to drought conditions in 2015. The weather forecast is that significant rainfall may only be expected by March 2016,’ Zokwana told reporters in Pretoria.
He was one of five cabinet ministers briefing media on the current drought, heatwave and water shortages. Zokwana said: ‘Farmers may struggle with their loans and it is affecting their credit worthiness. There is a risk of loss of income as a result of crop failures that may even threaten farm jobs.
‘This drought can only worsen the hunger and poverty problem. The country may face the need to import grains like yellow and white maize. Talking of food security in the SADC region, it is not only South Africa affected, but the whole region. About 8 million tonnes of maize are consumed in South Africa and the rest is exported to the SADC region. South Africa is the largest maize producer in the SADC. There are more than 9 000 commercial as well as thousands of subsistence maize producers.’
‘The drought has significantly reduced the arable land in South Africa. South Africa has declining stock levels of white maize until the end of April 2016. Yellow maize stocks will be very tight and may need to be supplemented. White maize is the major staple food for many people. The average maize yield has reduced by 5.3 tonnes per hectare – the lowest yield since 2008,’ said Zokwana.
He said the effect of the drought was being felt already in the supermarket. This is going to affect the price of maize meal and affordable basic staple food, especially by the poor and vulnerable. Between July 2014/15, the cost of the basic food basket increased by about R21 in normal terms. This drought and low maize production will have an impact on our SADC neighbours. This may become a regional disaster if it persists,’ he said.