Inside Labour: Post Office is rotten to the core

2014-10-30 06:45

The strike-bound SA Post Office (Sapo) has been badly damaged.

And not by greedy workers and belligerent unions – it has been damaged by mismanagement, corruption and a total lack of planning and foresight.

The strike, in its 12th week, is not a cause, but a symptom of the malaise.

This is the widely held view in the labour movement. And on the evidence over the recent years, it is valid.

The unions have protested about looming disaster for the better part of a decade, while accepting ideas to modernise and adapt the Post Office to the digital age.

It has also been pointed out that the structure of the Post Office with its banking arm, Postbank, providing a potential honeypot to be dipped into, is part of the problem.

But despite union protests dating back to 2008 nothing was done.

Corruption allegations came to a head in 2010 when the unions discovered management was employing 8?600 casual workers at an annual cost of about R350?million. The hourly rate paid to the labour brokers was more than double the pay received by the workers.

“We want to know what are, and were, the links between the brokers and management,” says Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) general secretary, Aubrey Tshabalala.

He is supported by the SA Postal Workers’ Union (Sapwu) general secretary, David Mangena, who says there is considerable evidence that “buddy buddies” benefited at various levels from management largesse.

In 2011, the CWU lodged a complaint with the Public Protector about fraud, corruption and general mismanagement in the Post Office. When nothing happened after nearly two years, the union complained and there were allegations of chicanery.

However, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said the delay was the result of inadequate resources and that her office was inundated with complaints. The investigation into the Post Office is now complete, is undergoing review, and should be tabled within weeks.

Also under way is an investigation by the Special Investigating Unit into allegations of serious mismanagement and corruption that includes the “unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public money”.

It was ordered earlier this year under the watch of former communications minister Yunus Carrim.

Carrim’s successor, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele, this week moved into action, apparently brokering a deal that saw management offering workers a 6.5% pay rise for this year.

Until now, Sapo management has maintained there was no money for any increases and the unions have been pressing for negotiations.

“But the issues of pay and conditions should come through negotiations at the bargaining council between unions and management,” says Mangena.

There is some concern that government may – as happened in 1999 – dictate a pay rise level. Sapwu members are discussing what their attitude and reaction should be to the latest developments.

While Cwele’s intervention was generally cautiously welcomed, there was some cynicism.

This is because the intervention came in the wake of a leaked audit report last week that revealed probable fraud of R10?million over the past year, as well as the fact that Sapo board members had received R4.6?million for attending 22 meetings.

“But we estimate that as much as R2.1?billion has been misappropriated over the years,” says Tshabalala.

He argues that the administration of the Post Office must be tightened, existing services expanded and the range increased.

“We need to preserve the Post Office as an essential public service, particularly for the poor and people in rural areas,” he says. He has the backing of Sapwu, Cosatu and most of the labour movement in this.

Former Post Office advantages in banking, money transfers, mailbox provision and parcel deliveries have already been eroded, with the private sector providing generally more expensive and less easily available alternatives.

“Which is why we need to maintain this public service, especially for the rural poor,” says the spokesperson for Cosatu, Patrick Craven.

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