Unions vow to protect workers' pensions as Gigaba meets PIC board

PIC CEO Daniel Matjila.
PIC CEO Daniel Matjila.

Johannesburg - The labour movement has vowed to keep a close watch on Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba's meeting with the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) board on Tuesday to safeguard workers' pension funds.

Unions have come out in support of PIC chief executive officer Dr Dan Matjila, who they believe could be targeted because he is speaking out against what they call the looting of the fund. 

The PIC, Africa’s largest fund manager, manages state employees' pension funds and oversees nearly R2trn in assets on behalf of at least 230 000 government employees.

Gigaba called the meeting to discuss reports that Treasury is considering dipping into the fund manager to bail out struggling state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to the tune of R100bn.

Trade union federation Cosatu and the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) indicated their concern over reports that the struggling South African Airways might have already approached the PIC for a bailout, while Eskom is also said to be seeking financial support from the PIC.

Cosatu has already called for an urgent meeting with Gigaba, voicing its distrust of the minister’s denial of these reports.

The finance ministry on Monday tried to put out some of the fires by issuing a statement expressing its concern over media reports that National Treasury wants to use R100bn of PIC funds to bail out failing parastatals. It said "the minister would like to clarify that these reports are untrue. No formal or informal request has been sent to the PIC for such funds.

"The minister finds these reports malicious and unconstructive. Such untrue reports deviate attention from what is important - finding a long-term solution that will ensure that SOEs continue to contribute to our economic development without being a burden on the fiscus," said the statement.

However, this did not calm the fears of Fedusa and its affiliated trade unions the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa, the Public Servants Association and teachers' union the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie, who expressed concerned over what they termed ongoing threats against the PIC.

Fedusa general secretary Dennis George voiced deep distrust in Gigaba, while throwing the federation's support behind Matjila. Fedusa said it hoped Tuesday's meeting would uphold the PIC’s board decision of September 15, in which it expressed its confidence in the "ability and integrity of Matjila, management and staff of the PIC”.

“Should this not be the case, and our concerns that the PIC is falling victim to forces that are diametrically opposed to the best interests of pensioners and public servants of South Africa (be justified), we will not hold back from using the full might of our public sector workers in protecting what is rightfully theirs.” 

He said the unions feared Matjila might now be targeted because of his comments in weekend papers. This comes after the PIC CEO said politically connected people are trying to remove him so that they could lay their hands on the keys to the PIC.

George said Gigaba indicated that he is taking suggestions that the PIC is being raided “seriously”, but then went on to suggest that he would act against those speaking out from inside the PIC.

Gigaba’s spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete told eNCA news on Monday that “heads would roll” for those who were leaking such information.

Fedusa believed Matjila’s decision to speak to the media over the weekend about these threats may be used against him.

“At worst, it could be used as a tactic to terminate his contract,” said George.  

Earlier, George said Fedusa was concerned that the lack of good governance at SOEs would spill over to the PIC, and that the federation is aware of plans to remove Matjila and replace him with an acting CEO.

“We are warning the government that pulling out of the Government Employees Pension Fund is one of the options we are considering in protecting the interest of our members." 

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