Timing of Nehawu strike well-planned - analyst

2015-11-13 21:17
(File: AFP)

(File: AFP)

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Cape Town - Striking Parliament employees want two simple things, they and their posters insist: More money and for secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana to fall.

And no five-year-old interdict, or the more recent one obtained by Parliament on Wednesday, will be allowed to stand in their way, they vowed.

Parliament employees affiliated with the National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) downed tools last week on Friday in a labour dispute dating back to 2014 and have defiantly refused to return to work, despite the institution calling their protest illegal.

The past five days have shown that they might not get either of their demands, even as the stand-off between Nehawu and Parliament showed no signs of abating.

Wearing red union T-shirts and brandishing #MgidlanaMustFall posters, the protesters have so far refused to budge in their quest for a change in the performance bonus payment structure.

They want their bonuses to be based on their annual packages, instead of on 100% if their monthly salary. And they are using an agreement signed by management as the crux of their argument.

The agreement says: "The parties agreed that the payment of a performance bonus should be on the employee’s total package instead of the pensionable value."

Parliament standing firm

But Parliament is standing firm on its point that the union could only renegotiate in 2017 when the current agreement on the payment structure expires.

Political analyst, Professor Joleen Steyn Kotze, said the timing of the protest was quite opportune for the union, as it left Parliament squeezed as it approached the end of the year.

“With the end of year approaching fast, there may be a perception that the employer will be more open to revisit the idea as they need to finalise the year’s business before closure,” said Steyn Kotze.

Steyn Kotze said the protest, though not directly linked with the recent university uprising that brought the country to a standstill, indicated that South Africans were losing patience with what they saw as failed promises.

“[It] forms part of a broader increase in protest action that we have witnessed in 2015. This includes service delivery protests as well. What is also telling is that these protests may be bordering on riots as there is an increase in violence and destruction,” she said.

While the various protesters attributed the start of the protest to different stressors in Parliament, including the re-vetting of staff and the employment of new members of Parliament Protection Services, they agree on one thing - there is money somewhere, and they want a piece of it.

Nehawu branch chairperson Sthembiso Tembe has said over and over this week that they will not bow down to pressure and will fight until their demands are met.

Not playing games

“We are not going to play games with management. We are not going to back down.” That has been his narrative throughout the entire protest.

Steyn Kotze said one point that emerged through the strike was a perception that monies were diverted to other projects and not the workers’ demands.

“This could cement an idea within the workers and union that the employers may be able to cede to more demands from the workers. Thus, we now see the demand that they revisit the agreement on how performance bonuses will be calculated.”

The week of strikes has seen committee meetings cancelled, Parliament working without some essential services such as interpreters and a general disruption of what is normally a relatively well-oiled machine.

For the second time in a space of a month, the national key point has seen public order police firing stun and smoke grenades at protesters, as South Africans demanded the country's leadership sit up and take notice.

And while students won their battle for fees not to be increased next year, it could be more difficult for the striking workers to do the same. As parents and breadwinners, they might not be able to keep up the momentum, as they have already been subjected to pay cuts over days missed during the ongoing strike.

Read more on:    nehawu  |  cape town  |  parliament 2015  |  strikes

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