We will keep going till we are heard - striking Parliament workers

2016-09-09 17:59

Cape Town – Parliamentary staff will keep protesting until the playing field is levelled, they said on Friday.

"We have a lot of energy and will keep going until we are heard. Last year we were on strike for almost a month, but we believe sanity will prevail," suspended National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union branch chairperson Sithembiso Tembe said. 

Nehawu Parliament branch leaders briefing media on the ongoing strike action at Parliament (Thulani Gqirana, News24)

The workers briefed media at a local church, where they appealed for presiding officers to take charge following their decision to down tools.

This was due to imminent salary deductions, they said, of which they had been notified on September 5. 

This stemmed from their month-long strike in 2015.

The striking workers also wanted Tembe’s suspension to be lifted, as well as disciplinary procedures against six union members.

Nehawu said it had called the press conference to "dispel the lies" told by Parliament.

This after the institution on Thursday issued a statement threatening to discipline and, ultimately, dismiss workers, saying the strike was unprotected.

Parliament said on Thursday that it was willing to negotiate with the union.

'Mgidlana cannot be a dictator'

But this, Tembe said on Friday, could not be done until his and Nehawu member Michael Sithole’s suspensions were lifted, and they were guaranteed that the salary deductions would happen.

This would be the only way the playing field would be levelled, Tembe said. 

The striking workers slammed Parliament secretary Gengezi Mgidlana, who they believe was responsible for the breakdown in labour relations.

They called him a Goliath who enjoyed "over-protection from the presiding officers".

He was also referred to as a "special needs child" of Parliament.

"And we don’t know why. Till when are we going to have to babysit an old man. Mgidlana cannot be a dictator in Parliament," Tembe said. 

Parliament management were "pathological liars", the workers said, in saying that most of the issues were already resolved.

'We are not just good at striking'

The Nehawu leaders on Friday appealed to the presiding officers to take charge before the situation got any worse.

"Our demands are legitimate. We are not going to back down," they said

They said they were willing to be part of the disciplinary process, if it was chaired by people from within the institution.

"We are not just good at striking, we are also good in boardrooms and can argue our cases," Tembe said.

Earlier in the day, the workers were threatened with arrest by public order police, who accused them of gathering illegally.

A stern looking public order police head Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Lucas told the gathered workers that they were blocking traffic and that the situation was "uncomfortable".

He would be forced to give them a warning, he said, if they did not disperse, and would then have to arrest them.

'A red lie'

Parliament on Thursday said they had not received notification of the strike, before workers downed tools.

In a statement laying down the reasons for the deductions and the disciplinary charges against the employees, Parliament said it was not convinced about the reasons behind the strike.

"The action is unprotected and staff are cautioned against committing misconduct by participating in such action. In instances where misconduct is committed, disciplinary action will be taken and this may lead to dismissal," the institution said.

It was inconceivable that due process could be withdrawn or cancelled for no legitimate reason, the statement said.

Calling the claim that they had not notified Parliament of their impending strike "a red lie", Nehawu’s Themba Gubula said they had written to Parliament on Monday September 5, and again 48 hours later. 

The South African Communist Party on Thursday expressed their support for the striking workers, and called for Parliament to lift the suspensions of the two workers.

Read more on:    parliament  |  nehawu  |  cape town

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