INDUSTRIAL ACTION

Bemawu threatens strike at SABC

The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu) is threatening to strike at the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to raise its concerns about the state of the public broadcaster particularly after allegations by the so-called SABC8 that Presidency spokesperson Bongani Nqulunga had a secret meeting with the acting head of news Nyana Molote.  The journalists claimed the meeting was to affirm the SABC news division as a propaganda tool for the ANC.  The union’s Hannes du Buisson said they were speaking to members to weigh up their options.

Employee threats of industrial action at Gupta mines

Thee Gupta family face the threat of industrial action by thousands of mineworkers whom they employ.  The Times newspaper visited two of the Gupta-owned mines, Optimum Coal, in Mpumalanga, and Shiva Uranium, in North West, ahead of a ruling on Monday that granted 20 Gupta-linked companies an interim interdict to postpone the bank closures.  The Guptas used the fate of their 7,500 workers to bolster their arguments against the closure of their only remaining bank accounts, but many of those workers are demanding they be paid irrespective of the “political war” they believe the family is embroiled in.  The week before last workers at Optimum went on strike when wages were paid late, and at the same time it was revealed that contract workers at the mine had staged a go-slow, refusing to work until everyone was paid for September.  They were paid on Friday last.  Workers later learned from news reports that retrenchments had been “discussed somewhere else”, a reference to the Guptas.  At Shiva, the situation is far more serious, with about 208 workers of labour broker Quatrotec now without jobs after its contract was terminated on 29 September.  Maja Mphahlele, the National Union of Mineworkers Matlosana regional co-ordinator, said information about plans for the mine would apparently be made available this week and went on to say:  “There was an indication that they want to do restructuring, and retain only 50% of the workforce.”

Strike looms at Road Accident Fund

A strike looms at the cash-strapped Road Accident Fund (RAF), where workers have lodged several complaints including malfunctioning air conditioning units, poor sanitation and assets such as computers being attached to pay creditors.  The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) on Tuesday said it had secured “a strike certificate” from the CCMA against the RAF.

WAGE AND OTHER LABOUR NEGOTIATIONS

HERNIC Ferrochrome wage agreement

HERNIC Ferrochrome, currently in business rescue, reached a three year wage settlement with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa). The agreement provides for increases of 7% in each of the three years.

EMPLOYMENT AND OTHER ECONOMIC MATTERS

Tshwane provides buses for unemployed youth

Young job seekers in Tshwane filled three buses to capacity on Monday when the city launched a free bus ride project to transport unemployed youth from townships to town to look for work.  The week-long pilot project, which kicked off in Bronkhorstspruit, was to provide three buses to ferry job seekers to access opportunities easier before dropping them back home in the afternoon.

Tshwane MMC for roads and transport Sheila Lynn Senkubuge indicated that the project, launched during transport month, coincided with the planned opening of the Black Royal Mine in Bronkhorstspruit, where scores of vacancies were open to youth in the area.

REMUNERATION AND EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

CCOD payouts to injured miners triple after reforms

The Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases (CCOD) tripled the number of payouts it made to injured miners in the 2016-17 financial year compared to the year before. This suggests that the reforms driven by Commissioner Barry Kistnasamy are starting to bear fruit.  Just under 5,300 miners and former mineworkers received a collective R203.6m in the 2016-17 year, compared to the R79.3m paid out to 1,766 claimants the year before.  Briefing parliament’s portfolio committee on health, Kistnasamy conceded that the CCOD was still getting its books in order and only expected to table its 2016-17 annual report in 2018, but was at pains to demonstrate that the formerly dysfunctional organisation was making significant progress in tackling the massive backlog of miners’ claims.

Concerns raised for a new overarching state/private pension fund

Concerns that politicians view the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) as a cash cow are looming large over discussions to establish an overarching pension fund for SA.  The new centralised retirement fund or National Social Security Fund (NSSF) will centralise the current more than 5,000 public and private retirement funds into one giant mandatory institution, possibly under government control.  It will aims to force South Africans to save for retirement, as well as cross-subsidise lower income earners.  It also plans to cut administrative costs and streamline all funds, as well as the Unemployment Insurance Fund, into a single integrated structure.  All income earners would be required to pay 12% of their annual salary to the NSSF, creating the multi-trillion rand fund.  But labour and investment analysts have warned that unless the centralised fund has good governance structures in place, it could potentially be used to bail out failing state-owned enterprises (SOES).  The new fund’s negotiations are taking place at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), where progress has been slow.

Fedusa wants to review PIC investments mandate for GEPF

The Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) indicated that it would consult rival federations over possibly withdrawing an investment mandate the state workers’ pension fund has with the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).  The PIC manages the funds of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) and has been in the spotlight recently after reports the finance ministry requested money from the pension fund to bail out struggling state firms.  Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has denied making such a request.  Fedusa general secretary Dennis George said:  “Our preliminary view is that there is no obligation in law for the GEPF to retain the PIC as the exclusive manager of these assets.”  He said the possible withdrawal of the investment mandate was necessary to protect the asset manager against political interference and to protect the pensions and savings of public sector workers.

Medical aid schemes allegedly in poor health

Worsening claims ratios and climbing healthcare costs have resulted in SA’s medical aid schemes facing a multimillion-rand deficit, the Council of Medical Schemes (CMS) 2016 annual report showed last week.  The council regulates 82 schemes, made up of 22 open schemes and 60 restricted schemes.  The report revealed that nearly 62% of the restricted schemes had a R1.435bn deficit, while 78.3% of the open schemes incurred a total deficit of R955.7m, up from R539.6m in 2015.  The net healthcare result for all medical schemes combined reflected a deficit of R2.391bn in 2016.  Even though membership numbers grew slightly by 0.78%, the deepening deficits were mainly due to the increased claims ratios of all schemes rising from 91.4% in 2015, to 92.1% in 2016.   Schemes were able to collect R163.9bn in contributions as at end-December 2016, but this was undercut by a gross healthcare expenditure of R151.2bn

Sadtu wants teachers to be incentivised to work in rural areas

The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has called on the government to incentivise teachers better so that large numbers opt to teach in rural areas.  Sadtu’s Mugwena Maluleke said that one of the key issues raised at the union’s national general council was the lack of teachers in rural areas.  He said it did not make sense for the government not to incentivise teachers to leave the comforts of urban life in order to teach in rural areas.  SA has a teacher shortage in general, but this is compounded in rural areas, where infrastructure is severely limited.  One suggestion was to exempt teachers in rural schools from certain taxes.  Department of Basic Education spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said that the issue of incentivising teachers for deployment to rural areas was a continuing discussion that had been on the negotiating table for a while.  He added that the department was willing to continue discussions on how to supply rural schools with quality teachers.  For now, the department had roped in education nongovernmental organisation Teach SA to recruit young graduates for placement in rural schools.

LEGAL AND COMPLIANCE

Saftu pledges solidarity with 91 Kumba workers fired in 2012

In what seems to be part of a member recruitment drive by Numsa, the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) on Wednesday pledged solidarity with 91 mineworkers who were dismissed at Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen mine in the Northern Cape five years ago following a wage strike and sit-in at the mine (the case of these workers were also previously investigated by Amcu).  The mineworkers, who were fired in 2012, are still fighting for their reinstatement.  Last Thursday, the Labour Court considered  the workers’ application for leave to appeal to the Labour Appeal Court to overturn a previous ruling on 30 June, which dismissed the reinstatement case.  Kumba dismissed 208 workers for “participating in an unprotected strike”.  At least 90 of those workers were reinstated after one of the unions reached a deal with the miner.  Five years on, 91 of the remaining 118 workers are still fighting to get their jobs back.  Saftu said it would give all possible assistance to the dismissed workers in relation to their appeal.

Government tardiness in implementing arbitration awards drives up costs of labour penalties

Government departments are paying a price for their tardiness in implementing arbitration awards in disputes with employees.  The Public Service Commission’s (PSC’s) Moira Marais-Martin said on Thursday that, while this failure to implement rulings was “not on a huge scale”, there was an increase in costs because of litigation over compensation for successful applicants.  She also said that government departments often displayed “an unhealthy level of hostility” towards aggrieved employees who pursued recourse through the labour court and other arbitration.  A PSC report indicated that government departments incurred arbitration awards against them to the value of R166m from 2013 to 2016, and R94m on compensation costs.  Some departments have had to spend much as R1.8m on interest for delaying to pay the amounts due.  The PSC’s recommendations include that departments develop an “overarching policy framework to assist where awards are allocated”.

Zwane faces rebellion in department

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane is facing a rebellion from officials within his department, amid allegations that a far-reaching redeployment of regional managers is politically motivated.  Zwane has been implicated in allegations of state capture and has yet to answer to allegations that he gave the controversial Gupta family preferential treatment in mining licences.  He is also in the middle of a legal battle with the mining sector over his controversial new mining charter.  Internally, accusations have been levelled against him by his own regional managers who have approached the labour court to set aside a decision by the minister and his director general to shift them to other posts in the country, allegedly to ensure that mining rights were dispersed to politically connected individuals.  The regional managers allege that the reshuffle was done without consultation or a clear public interest justification, as required by law.  An interim interdict granted to the regional managers by the labour court in April, blocking the far-reaching reshuffle, is still pending.  Sources in various unions and in the department allege that there is an “atmosphere of fear and intimidation” in the department.

COMMUNITY

Zebediela citrus estate rescued

The Bjatladi community in Limpopo is set to reap the benefits of its ownership of Zebediela Citrus Farm, which is under new management and has had an injection of capital.  The farm, outside Polokwane, reverted to community ownership following a successful land restitution claim.  Zebediela, once hailed as a leading citrus farm in the southern hemisphere, had been unable to meet its orders, breaching supplier contacts and failing to pay staff.  However, the beneficiaries, through Bjatladi Community Property Association, reportedly approached Tumi Mokwena, a former lawyer to EEF leader Julius Malema, to intervene and assist in finding an investor to keep the farm going.  Since then management of the farm has been taken over by Eight Mile Investments, a company associated with Cape-based fruit exporter Fruitco, which is gearing up to resume full operations.  “Things are going well at Zeb [Zebediela].  We are currently preparing an international order from the farm, which needs to be dispatched,” said Fruitco MD Paul Huish.

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