Post Office faces crippling strike

2011-07-30 14:07

The Communication Workers’ ­Union (CWU), the majority union at the South African Post Office (Sapo), has threatened to go on strike over a 10-year, R520 million lease agreement allegedly concluded by some senior managers of the mail and banking parastatal without following the Treasury’s procurement regulations.

The union, currently in the middle of wage talks with Sapo, ­confirmed this week that it had used the lease scandal to put pressure on the parastatal’s negotiators to accede to its wage demand of an 11% hike for its members.

However, Sapo has dug in its heels on a 6.25% offer, resulting in the negotiations collapsing and the union filing a wage dispute with the Commission for Conciliation, ­Mediation and Arbitration.

“We have told them that we are not prepared to accept anything less than a 10% increase while the management has made big bungles on two property lease tenders, which have resulted in wasteful expenditure,” said Clyde Mervin, the first deputy president of the CWU.

“There is a likelihood that we will go on strike to demand a pay increase and the ­dismissal of the chief executive, Motshoanetsi Lefoka, chief operating officer John Wentzel and head of group strategy, Marikie Lancaster, because we believe they were involved in the lease bungles,” he added.

The CWU organises about 10 800 of Sapo’s 14 000 workers and a strike could severely cripple Sapo’s operations.

The lease controversy erupted two weeks ago after City Press ­revealed details of the relocation of Sapo’s head office from its premises in downtown Pretoria to Eco Park Estate, a plush office complex in Centurion.

The report was published after the South African Postal Workers’ Union (Sapwu), which also organises workers at Sapo, questioned why the parastatal started paying rent 10 months before taking ­occupancy, amounting to R21 million thus far.

Sapwu also alleged that the ­tender was never advertised. According to Treasury regulations, ­tenders worth R500 000 or more must be advertised and undergo competitive bidding processes.

The CWU has also questioned the relocation of the operations of Postbank, Sapo’s banking subsidiary, from its premises in Bloemfontein to a new building in ­Langenhoven Park.

A media ­report last week said Sapo was ­paying a monthly rental of R1 million for the Bloemfontein building.

“We don’t understand why Sapo is moving from the premises it owns in both Pretoria and Bloemfontein, and opting to rent at exorbitant costs,” said the CWU’s Mervin, who added that the union was preparing a letter to ask the board to suspend Lefoka, Wentzel and Lancaster.

The allegations have drawn the attention of the communications portfolio committee.

Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, the committee’s chairman, urged Communications Minister Roy Padayachie to take swift and ­decisive action on the allegations.

Kholwane said: “The committee would like the department or the board to account on what exactly happened. The board, executive or any other employee(s) in the Post Office should be held accountable for their actions, omissions and failure to act if these allegations are true.”

The CWU met this week with representatives from the Office of the Public Protector to request an investigation.

Last week, Sapo’s board said that an internal investigation ­related to the allegations was ­ongoing and had resulted in disciplinary action being initiated against more executives.

It revealed that the probe was looking at procurement processes related to the head office move in Pretoria, the lease agreement and a possible misrepresentation of facts.

Meanwhile, it was business as usual for Sapo, with its spokesperson Lungile Lose saying: “The ­negotiations are ongoing to undo the deadlock on the substantive ­issues relating to wage increases and housing allowances.

“I cannot comment on what the union is likely to do, but it can ­exercise its rights within the law.”

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