'The municipality is being run like a spaza shop'
TEN SOL Plaatje municipal employees, who won an unfair dismissal case and were instructed to be reinstated as from last week, were chased away from their workplace when they reported for duty yesterday.
By yesterday afternoon, the employees were locked in meetings with the provincial ANC, where they sought assistance.
The employees’ services were terminated when the new executive mayor Mangaliso Matika and Speaker Elizabeth Johnson were inducted in 2016.
“We were told to leave when we arrived for work today (yesterday) and were told by the chief financial officer that the municipality would be taking the matter on review in the Labour Court,” the reinstated employees indicated.
They were employed as political employees in the Speaker’s and mayor’s office on a fixed-term basis.
Arbitration proceedings started in April 2017 after a dispute was lodged at the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) in August 2016.
The parties were not ready to proceed with the matter in February this year and it was postponed until April 9.
According to one of the applicants, Dennis Pienaar, a former councillor, a historical agreement was concluded where the contracts of political employees would be absorbed into the municipality.
He pointed out that the administrative system was bloated as a result of all these contracts.
He added that a decision was then taken that no additional contract workers would be appointed in the political offices in the event of any leadership changes, to prevent the expansion of the organogram.
He added that contrary to this agreement, only 242 contract workers were permanently employed and that the remainder of the workers were still waiting for the outcome of some legal processes that had caused delays.
He testified that the new mayor arrived with his own staff complement in addition to the existing staff who occupied his office.
Another applicant, SK Korope, was surprised upon receiving a dismissal letter.
He stated that he had served under four mayors and three Speakers while there were other workers employed in the political offices of the mayor and Speaker.
According to the executive director of corporate services, Ruth Sebolecwe, who testified on behalf of the municipality, whenever a political leader was recalled, staff would remain behind while new political leaders would bring in their own staff.
Her legal representative indicated that political functionaries had carte blanche on whom they wished to appoint, where none of the persons in authority made any promises that the applicants’ contracts would be extended.
The SALGBC panellist, David Pietersen, pointed out that all applicants had signed their last contracts for one year only, ending in 2011, whereby they were extended without any fixed date being provided by the municipality.
“Evidence was led by the municipality that all the applicants’ positions were filled and are currently occupied by other employees. No explanation was provided on why the applicants had to be dismissed in order to accommodate new contract workers.”
He stated that the employees worked for years after their contracts had expired or were left open-ended.
“This can, in my view, be regarded as a reasonable explanation for permanent employment.”
Pietersen also highlighted the unfairness in filling their positions with new workers.
“It is unfair that the services of employees who have worked for many years for the municipality should be terminated without just cause.”
He ordered that they be reinstated from the date of their dismissal on September 1, 2016 with back pay that should be paid before August 31 and that they report for duty by April 27.
Manager in the office of the executive mayor, George Mosimane, did not wish to comment on the matter.
The chairperson of the Northern Cape Civics Organisation, Ross Henderson, believes that taxpayers’ money will once again be squandered on a case that the municipality will in all likelihood lose on review.
“The municipality is being run like a spaza shop. The decision to refer the matter to the Labour Court at the ratepayers’ expense was not even brought before council for a resolution, even though it lost its case at the bargaining council.”
Henderson added that the municipality was responsible for “creating its own mess” when it employed personnel in positions that were the subject of a labour dispute.
“The municipality will be obliged to pay double salaries for one post on the organogram as well as back pay. This amounts to fruitless and wasteful expenditure. It will also open up the municipality to more litigation should they terminate the services of the employees who were appointed to fill the posts.”
Henderson stated that they were prepared to assist the reinstated employees on a pro bono basis in the Labour Court.