The Nehawu trade union is battling against South African Parliament!


A DISPUTE between workers in the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the South African Parliament is building.

The workers are employees of the Parliament. The latest chapter in the dispute started last week, Tuesday 21st June, when Nehawu workers interrupted a staff meeting. The union members began singing so that the Secretary to Parliament‚ Gengezi Mgidlana, could not speak at the meeting.

The meeting was organised between the Parliament and its employees, to discuss a threatened strike which workers there had announced in May. The workers’ demands in May were the payment of bonuses and what the union claims are the ‘unilateral’ reductions in the performance ratings of some employees.

The grievances also stretched back to last November, when Nehawu members went on strike and occupied chambers in the National Assembly with similar demands. From November 25th to December 25th, the workers were locked out of Parliament, and the lock-out was counted as strike days.

An unprotected strike, it led to deductions from workers’ wages and bought down their staff performance bonus scores and therefore their annual bonuses. Mgidlana refused to address these concerns, hence he was interrupted by workers during the meeting.

He was accused by S’thembiso Tembe, Nehawu parliamentary chairman, of using Public Order Police and parliamentary security personnel as his personal security guards to protect him from angry workers.

Tembe said, ‘He had a number of items. However, he could not proceed because as the secretary he has lost legitimacy. The issue of deductions was not addressed. He has refused to reverse deductions, as we demanded. The reductions of worker scores are still unaddressed so we let him know that we will not allow him to speak.’

After the disruption, four workers – two shop stewards, including Tembe, and two ordinary union members, are facing charges of insubordination. The two shop stewards are facing precautionary suspension from their work in Parliament, though they remain its employees.

On Wednesday 22nd June, Nehawu members gathered at the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town to support their comrades facing disciplinary procedures. Nehawu therefore announced that they would strike next Tuesday, to demand the dropping of these charges, should Parliament still be pushing for the suspension.

Parliament responded by calling the strike unauthorised‚ unprotected and illegal, since Parliament is by law an essential service. The Nehawu position against Parliament and its Secretary Mgidlana is hardening, and this seven-month struggle looks set to continue.

• A court decision in South Africa has changed the law on strike accountability when political parties become involved in strikes. It had been practice for employers to claim that a strike became ‘political’ when a party intervened on the side of the unions, and then attempt to end the strike’s legal, protected status to make the strike illegal and break the strike.

However, the new decision overturns this. The decision centres around the case of the National Union of Food Beverage Wine Spirits and Allied Workers and others v Universal Product Network (UPN), with the judgement passed by the Labour Court.

The union had embarked on a legal strike in October 2015, on the grounds that wages and other conditions had not been reached with UPN. During the strike, picketers held banners attacking UPN’s holding company Woolworth’s for doing business with Israel.

Solidarity with Palestinians and hostility towards Israel are common feelings amongst South African workers, who recognise the similarities between the South African apartheid regime ended in 1994 and the Israeli apartheid regime of today. This leant a political flavour to the strike.

Further, the strikers were supported by a party called the Economic Freedom Fighters, the left-wing group founded by former African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema when he was expelled from the ANC in 2013.

The EFF entered the UPN’s headquarters demanding to negotiate on behalf of the strikers, and advised the strikers on methods to win the strike. The employer made a legal challenge against the workers, claiming picketing and other strike-related misconduct.

The union’s defence was that they were not responsible for the views or the conduct of the EFF. The Labour Court agreed, saying that ‘the mere fact that a strike has taken on a political flavour cannot transform a protected strike into an unprotected one.’ This should be hailed as a victory for South African workers insofar as it will make it more difficult for the ANC regime to stop the upcoming strikes and attack the unions.

• The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) in Limpopo has made a statement after a nurse was found selling antiretroviral drugs, which are used against HIV/AIDS, privately on the streets of Polokwane.

‘The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) in Limpopo strongly condemns the act of a nurse who was caught red-handed selling ARVs on the streets of Polokwane yesterday.

‘We are disappointed in her conduct as it taints the good name of the profession and undermines the great contribution and hard work that many nurses put in their work every day in servicing communities despite severe shortage of nurses. It remains a mystery to DENOSA, however, how an assistant nurse got to issue medication in the first place when, in terms of regulation by the South African Nursing Council (SANC), that is the duty of a professional nurse.

‘As DENOSA we strongly advise nurses not to fall into the same trap as that will make this profession a laughing stock., DENOSA has been vocal about the severe shortage of medication in many clinics countrywide. We feel very strongly that the action of this nurse undermines this call when she commits this selfish and inconsiderate act.

‘Nurses have made a tremendous contribution in saving the lives of patients who suffer from HIV/AIDS through NIMART, and it is the cause that they are fully committed to. It’s a contribution that DENOSA is proud of as it has had positive spin-offs such as the increase in the life expectancy of South Africans.

‘DENOSA feels this is the contribution by nurses that must be defended; and we trust that the justice system will play its part. DENOSA assures the committed nurses out there that their contribution is still valuable, and they must continue to serve South Africans with diligence.’