EFF rips off its staff

2015-04-12 15:20

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The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – which has projected itself as the champion of the working class and the poor – stands accused of violating the rights of its own workers.

In the nine months since the EFF was elected into Parliament, the party has:

.?Laid off workers by dismissing them verbally, giving them a week’s notice;

.?Failed to register workers and pay their contributions over to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF); and

.?Failed to hand Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax deductions to the SA Revenue Service (Sars).

Now, about 20 staff members from various provinces have taken their cases to the department of labour and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

A City Press investigation has found that, despite the workers having formal contracts and payslips reflecting deductions, Julius Malema’s party insists they were mere “volunteers” and “deployees” – and are, therefore, not entitled to the same rights as employees.

Most of the dismissed staff members were each employed in one the EFF’s 54 constituency offices throughout the country. Their contracts started in July 2014 and were supposed to run until the end of the current parliamentary term in 2019.

But at the end of January, several administrators and field workers were called into meetings in provincial offices and told the Central Command Team (CCT), led by Malema, had come to a decision to retrench them.

In a recording from one of those meetings, which City Press has heard, EFF Mpumalanga provincial command team head Cyril Chuene is heard telling staff: “There was a CCT resolution?…?That is the resolution that we are not even able to engage on because it is the upper structures that have taken that decision. It is not negotiable.”

[audio mp3="http://www.citypress.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Meeting-2.mp3"][/audio]

Chuene told staff the party was cash-strapped.

“I think the reason they arrived at that point is that we are not financially viable as an organisation. So they are trying to minimise costs,” he said of the CCT.

When staff asked Chuene for formal termination letters stating the reasons for their dismissals, Chuene told them: “You were deployed, so it is not a dismissal.”

City Press contacted Chuene about the recording, but he said he couldn’t comment.

Celi Nkambule, a field worker in the Ehlanzeni region in Mpumalanga, said the provincial leaders kept telling them “it’s a CCT decision” so there would be no written explanation for their sacking.

Nkambule resigned from his government job and took a salary cut to work for the EFF because he believed in its principles, he explained. He said he now felt betrayed.

In February, Malema told City Press the EFF was considering halving its 108 field workers in their constituency offices. Malema also claimed the EFF field workers were not really employees, but volunteers who received an allowance to cover their costs.

“It’s not a salary, as it’s voluntary work,” Malema told us. “They are paid an allowance of R5?000, which is mainly for transport purposes, because you are voluntary.”

[audio mp3="http://www.citypress.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Malema_2.mp3"][/audio]

But field workers City Press has spoken to have accused Malema of lying and produced documents to prove they were formally employed.

“It’s surprising to me because I never had any letter that says I am a volunteer,” said Nkambule. “On my payslip was not written ‘a volunteer’; on my contract was not written ‘a volunteer’; on my appointment letter was not written ‘a volunteer’?…?You don’t deduct UIF for volunteers. You don’t give volunteers payslips.”

What irks the dismissed staff members most is that they were given new contracts to sign in January – and about two weeks later, were told they should stop coming to work.

In most cases, staff were dismissed verbally, with only one week’s notice.

The EFF leadership also seems to have ignored the warnings of the party’s head of human resources, Kgomotso Tsitsi, who wrote a letter to all provincial offices last year warning that staff contracts “cannot be terminated at will”.

Termination of contracts letter

“The staff members in question have signed contracts that are legally binding on the organisation?…?staff have rights and these rights cannot be violated at random,” she wrote.

City Press asked Tsitsi about the letter, but she refused to comment.

Dismissed staff are angry about the way in which they were fired, which they felt was “an insult of note”.

Mpumalanga field worker Caleb Sibitane said: “They treated us as if we are enemies; they treated us as if we are a condom that has been used. Now we are not wanted.”

Lephallo Mohoto, an administrator from the Western Cape metro region, said: “Fighters who have taken that decision that they will sacrifice for the organisation?...?are now being sidelined, and new people are being put in.

“I’m very disappointed with the leadership. How we will be able to take care of workers if we can’t take care of our own workers?” he asked.

As an administrator in Mpumalanga’s Botshabelo region, Nomaswazi Nkambule was being paid R10?000 a month, with R100 deducted as a UIF contribution and R739.50 deducted for PAYE.

Nomaswazi Nkambule’s September payslip

After she was retrenched, she went to the department of labour to claim her unemployment insurance, but an official told her there was no record of the EFF being her employer or of her UIF contributions being paid.

[audio mp3="http://www.citypress.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Nomaswazi-2.mp3"][/audio]

Looking at a Julius Malema billboard across the road from the Lydenburg Labour Centre, Nkambule shook her head at the irony of the party message: “Restore the dignity of the oppressed, the black majority and the poor.”

At the labour centre, officials confirmed the UIF database had no record of the EFF being listed as Nomaswazi’s employer or of her UIF contributions being paid.

“She was not registered. Not registered even now,” an official told us. “If there was [an EFF payment], it should appear.”

By law, both UIF and PAYE contributions must be paid over to Sars by the seventh of the month – it is a criminal offence not to.

While City Press was there, one of the labour officials tried calling the EFF again, to no avail. The officials also could not find a single record to show the party had registered any EFF staff member for UIF.

For the EFF’s approximately 162 administrators and field workers, R151?200 in UIF contributions should have been paid to Sars between July 2014 and January 2015. This is made up of R75?600 deducted from staff and R75?600 the EFF was supposed to contribute.

Out in the parking lot, Nomaswazi called the Sars call centre. In total, R5?176.50 was deducted administratively from Nomaswazi’s salary for PAYE, but the call centre could not find any record of this money having been paid to Sars.

EFF offer of employment

“We all admire Malema, but the same thing he wants from Zuma is the thing we want from him,” says Nomaswazi. “Just as he says ‘pay back the money’ to Zuma, he must pay back our salaries?…?You should be cleaning your house first before you go to your neighbour to say: ‘Why is your house so dirty?’”

The next day, City Press met up with Sibitane and Nkambule in Nelspruit.

As in Nomaswazi’s case, the Sars call centre confirmed none of Caleb’s PAYE deductions had been paid over to Sars.

[audio mp3="http://www.citypress.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Caleb-2.mp3"][/audio]

“We’re working for thugs!” Caleb exclaimed as he put down the phone.

Sars said they could not disclose whether the EFF had failed to pay PAYE for all its staff members, but confirmed that if the call centre could not identify any payments on Caleb or Nomaswazi’s account, then no payments would have been made.

If the EFF failed to pay over PAYE for all of its 54 administrators between July and January, it would amount to R279?531 deducted from staff that has gone missing.

“When we were recruiting people, I remember I used to tell them: ‘This is the party where we work for the people.’ Apparently, what is happening now is the opposite,” said Nomaswazi. “If a person comes to me now and tells me he wants to join the EFF, I don’t know what I would say to him. Am I supposed to be saying you’re wasting your time?”

City Press sent a detailed list of questions, setting out all the allegations, to Malema, EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and secretary-general Godrich Gardee.

Yesterday, Gardee responded by saying the EFF’s official position was that they had no comment to make on any of the allegations.

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