Zuma averts municipal strike – again

2011-07-16 16:33

President Jacob Zuma has again managed to prevent municipal workers from going on a potentially crippling strike over the cadre deployment act.

This week, Zuma and the governing party’s top five convinced disgruntled senior members of the SA Municipal Workers Union not to down tools to express their opposition to the Municipal Systems Act.

Just days before the municipal elections in May, Zuma stopped the union from going on a strike and promised that their concerns over the bill would be taken into consideration before it was signed into law.

However, Zuma signed the bill two weeks ago, much to the dismay of the union, which threatened to cause mayhem and even accused the president of lying.

In the latest development, Zuma and the union agreed to arrange for a legal team to come up with regulations dealing with controversial provisions of the act.

“It is now a cumbersome process (of coming up with regulations). But we have confidence in the process. We have to give it a chance,” said the union’s deputy general secretary, Walter Theledi.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said when the ANC leadership engaged with the union in May it was too late to stop the cadre bill from becoming law.

“The bill had gone through the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. Once a bill has gone through those stages there’s virtually nothing you can do. You can’t stop a bill like that because you had a meeting,” said Mantashe.

The union’s main gripe is the provision which gives the cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister almost sweeping powers in terms of intervening in and vetoing bargaining matters related to wage negotiations.

The union and federation body Cosatu argued that such a clause took away bargaining power from the union and the bargaining council.

Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said: “The act limits the right to bargaining but it is not clear whether such a limitation would be justifiable in terms of the limitation clause in the Constitution. The act will have to be tested in court to determine this.”

At Monday’s special meeting with the union, Zuma admitted he had erred and that there was a need to amend the act.

Another meeting was held by the union with acting Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Wednesday when the parties agreed that their lawyers would work together on the regulations.

But legal experts said regulations could not be used to amend the act.

“However, where legislation bestows broad discretion on the minister – as is the case here – it may be possible for regulations to be passed in terms of the act to provide guidelines according to which the minister has to exercise such discretion,” said De Vos.

Independent legal expert advocate Kevin Malunga said the ANC’s intervention was “too little too late”, and that the act would have to be amended by Parliament.

“The solution is to have interim measures such as a memorandum of understanding or code of practice which captures the compromise between the two parties until an acceptable amendment is reached,” said Malunga.

Meanwhile, the union’s central executive committee meeting rejected government’s latest offer of 7.5% against their demand for a double digit increase.

The union said it will this week consult its members – estimated to be more than 200 000 – on the offer.

A special executive committee meeting will be convened on July 25 to decide whether or not to go on strike over the wage issue.

Today, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa was expected to announce whether its two-week strike would come to an end – if its members accept the latest salary offer of 10%.

The union went on strike – which has been characterised by violence and intimidation – after employers rejected its demand for a 20% increase.

And around the country, petrol pumps were starting to dry up following the week-long strike by workers in the petroleum and chemical industry.

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