Employees bring Parliament to a standstill

2015-11-10 14:17
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PICS: UCT staff and students protest at Parliament

UCT staff and students have marched to Parliament to protest, demanding an end to outsourcing. View pics of the protest here.

Parliament came to a standstill this morning due to industrial action by Parliament staff.

This resulted in an unprecedented suspension of a sitting of the National Assembly, although it is understood that one or two portfolio committees went ahead regardless.

Hundreds of Parliament employees had downed tools since Monday and had embarked on an unprotected strike. They were demanding improved performance bonuses and also called for Parliament to suspend the vetting of staff.

The National Assembly was scheduled to sit at 11am to process the budget review and recommendation reports of various Parliament portfolio committees but, shortly after 11am, house chairperson Cedric Frolick told the few MPs who had gathered for the plenary session that the sitting had been suspended because of the industrial action.

At the time, the hundreds of striking workers – who were also members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) – were sitting in front of the New Assembly building, which houses the chamber.

They cheered loudly when they were informed of the postponement.

The issue was an allegation by Nehawu that Parliament was backtracking on an agreement signed in March to pay performance bonuses based on the total annual package. They claimed that Parliament wanted to give them a performance bonus based on 25% of the monthly salary.

“We met with Parliament yesterday; it was not really negotiations because we want them to implement the agreement that we signed in March that said the performance bonus should be based on total annual package,” said Sthembiso Tembe, the chairperson of Nehawu’s Parliament branch.

“They don’t want to do that. They want to take us back to the slavery times when they were giving us only 25% of the 70% of the monthly salary.

“We are saying that is wrong. How can I work for 12 months and be assessed on 12 months but only give me a portion of my monthly salary?”

Tembe explained that there were two agreements that Parliament signed with staff this year – the main agreement signed in March that was specific and listed the conditions of service, and another agreement in June that did not speak about performance bonus, but concentrated mostly on the issues of salary increase.

Tembe said they would down tools until all their demands were met. Nehawu had 979 members out of Parliament’s 1389 employees.

In a memorandum addressed to MPs the secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, said the union’s interpretation of the agreement on payment of performance bonuses differed with that of the employer.

“Apart from the fact that the union’s demands are unaffordable under the current financial climate, they also effectively amount to a renegotiation of the current agreement between the union and the employer,” said Mgidlana.

He apologised to MPs for the interruption of institutional services.

This week’s strike was also joined by Parliamentary Protection Services, catering services and chamber assistants who had not participated in such industrial action before because they were classified as essential services.

Parliament employees were also demanding that the re-vetting of staff by the state security agency – which began last month – be put on hold.

Tembe said that Nehawu was not consulted on the matter.

He said Nehawu supported vetting in principle if it sought to achieve good governance and fight corruption and fraud.

“But we also say we should have been consulted because there many questions from workers and we cannot respond because we were never informed.”

He said they also did not believe that everybody should be subjected to “this heightened security clearance or vetting process” because most Parliament employees only handled public documents.
Read more on:    parliament  |  nehawu

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