Labour bill torpedoed by DA walkout

2013-06-23 14:00

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The DA on Friday celebrated its successful walkout in Parliament, which kept the contentious Labour Relations Amendment Bill from becoming law before the end of the House’s second term.

The party’s MPs staged a walkout when the bill came up for vote late on Thursday, leaving the National Assembly with less than its required quorum – 201 of the 400 members.

Parliament has now closed and will only reopen at the end of July.

Despite the governing ANC having more than enough MPs to vote through the bill itself, several dozen of its 265 MPs seemed to be inexplicably absent.

The ANC chief whip’s spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, lashed out at the official opposition’s ploy, but also said the poor attendance “from all political parties ... cannot be condoned”.

In an SMS response to questions from City Press, Mothapo said: “We will ensure this bill is passed to ensure job security, quality jobs and job creation.

“We are particularly dismayed by the DA’s irresponsible decision to walk out of the process.

“We are not a one-party state or a totalitarian system, where only one party takes decisions in Parliament.

“By walking out of this important sitting, the DA missed a valuable opportunity to register its views on this draft legislation in a true multiparty democracy system.”

The DA’s chief whip, Watty Watson, released a statement on Friday saying his party’s walkout not only managed to prevent a “bad bill” from becoming law, but also helped in “exposing the ANC’s poor attendance in the sitting”.

Thursday was coincidentally the ANC’s new parliamentary chief whip Stone Sizani’s first day on the job.

The bill has, for more than two years, been the source of political clashes between parties, unions and business lobbies.

A final version of the bill, with which neither business nor labour was particularly happy, reached Parliament for final deliberations in the portfolio committee for labour on June 5.

There, ANC MPs voted for two significant new changes, catching the opposition and business lobbies unaware.

The party reduced the maximum period for which a temporary worker can be employed before being “deemed” permanent from six months to three months after abandoning an initial attempt to reduce it to zero.

The ANC MPs also struck out a section that would reintroduce strike ballots and prohibit strikes if they are not supported by a majority of workers in a workplace.

It is largely in response to these changes that the DA this week tried to derail voting on the bill.

At first, it tried to call for new amendments of its own, which are even more far-reaching than the ANC’s.

These include repealing the provisions for extending wage agreements reached in bargaining councils and the setting of majoritarian union thresholds, while the party also wants strike ballots back in the bill.

Union federation Cosatu on Friday called the DA’s proposed amendments a “strike-breakers’ charter”.

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