Post Office, unions in labour battle

2012-05-05 10:21

‘Disruptive’ HR department demand for proof of membership from parastatal’s two unions could affect wage negotiations

Unions are up in arms over a move by the South African Post Office (Sapo) to no longer recognise their legitimacy.

Two weeks ago Sapo told the only two unions in the parastatal that they had 90 days to provide proof of memberships from members’ stop orders or cease to exist.

The unions – which claimed to have submitted the stop orders in September – were furious.

The South African Postal Workers Union (Sapwu) viewed this as a ploy by Sapo management to sideline the union from imminent wage negotiations, and the Communications Workers Union (CWU) called for the head of Sapo’s human resources executive.

Sapo’s financial records showed that in April the CWU received R335 000 in monthly subscriptions. Sapwu collected R336 000.

Sapwu also alleged that the post office was discriminating against its members by forcing them to pay double subscription fees when CWU members pay only one.

In a letter dated April 16, Sapo alleges that the CWU – which has been the dominant union at the parastatal – no longer maintained the 50%-plus-one majority status necessary for it to be recognised as the legitimate voice of the workers at the parastatal.

Maphutha Diaz, Sapo’s human resources group executive, said in the letter that the CWU had 90 days to submit copies of stop orders with an aim to have its membership verified by the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

“Should the CWU fail to establish a level of representativity of 50% plus one through the verification process, the recognition agreement and agency fee agreement would automatically terminate upon the expiry of this 90-day notice,” said Diaz.

In a letter to Sapwu on the same day, he warned the union that – if the stop order copies were not submitted – it would no longer be entitled to exercise its rights after 30 business days from April 16.

Diaz wanted copies of Sapwu stop orders to determine its membership.

Sapwu spokesperson Tutu Mokoena said the membership verification process could take more than three months, which made it impossible for Sapwu to be part of wage negotiations.

He accused Sapo of repelling the union’s membership by making it pay double subscription fees since September.

Mokoena said: “We are losing members because they are being hit in their pockets for subscribing to us at a period when the economy is weak.”

Responding to City Press questions, Diaz said the stop orders were being requested in “line with the current recognition agreement signed with Sapwu in respect of representative membership numbers and organisational rights they are entitled to”.

“Both unions were given 90-day notices to submit their stop orders for membership verification, which would be conducted independently by the CCMA,” said Diaz.

“Depending on the outcome of these verifications, the company will act in accordance with the provisions of the recognition agreements of both unions.

“Where the verification process conducted by the CCMA proves that the membership of the union is below the required threshold, the respective provisions of the recognition agreements of both unions will kick in,” he said.

Defending Sapo’s resolution to make Sapwu members pay double subscription fees, Diaz said the agency fee agreement stated that a non-member of the CWU, as the majority union, had to pay a monthly agency fee.

“Any non-member of CWU who elects not to pay the said amount may declare themselves a conscientious objector and will pay this amount to the Department of Labour via the company,” said Diaz.

“This means that if you are a member of Sapwu, you would be required to pay two subscriptions,” he said.

“This amount is equivalent to the subscription fee, in this case R60. If you are a member of Sapwu, you will be required to pay an agency fee to the CWU and also a personal subscription fees as a member of Sapwu, which is also equivalent to R60,” he said.

“It means that members of Sapwu will have to pay the amounts until the CWU is no longer the majority union and this is the subject matter of two notices issued to both unions in relation to their membership numbers,” Diaz said.

CWU spokesperson Matankana Mothapo said the union submitted a set of copies of stop orders late last year and failed to understand why they should be resubmitted.

“Diaz is being disruptive and acts in an unacceptable manner as we have already submitted the stop orders – in September,” he said.

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