‘Hands off muni manager’ as unions march to City Hall

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Makana’s Municipal Manager resigned this week, reportedly in protest against political interference. Yesterday’s protest by municipal workers was at least partly about who has jurisdiction over certain labour decisions in local government: the politicians (councillors), the administration (municipal manager) or local government’s national central bargaining council. Beneath that are simmering tensions at a local level between alliance partners the ANC and the SACP.  Sue Maclennan reports

Provincial government officials received a petition from municipal unions outside the Makhanda City Hall on Friday 8 November. Among the demands were  an end to political interference in administrative matters; a full forensic audit into four local infrastructure projects; and renewed calls for the Makana Council to be dissolved.

The march came four days after municipal Manager Moppo Mene resigned and after two days of protests by the community of the Inkanini informal settlement, who are demanding electricity. Both have put pressure on the city’s leadership. In a special council meeting soon after yesterday’s march, LED Director Riana Meiring was appointed acting municipal manager.

Secretary of the South African Municipal Workers Union in the Pinkie Ntsangana (Sarah Baartman) Region Wandile Duruwe addresses union members outside the City Hall.

Around 500 mostly red-clad South African Municipal Union (SAMWU) members along with a handful of Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU)-aligned staff were followed by a convoy of 60-odd minibus taxis as they toyi-toyiied from Fingo Square to Church Square outside the City Hall in Makhanda Friday morning. The gathering was addressed by leadership of SAMWU’s Pinky Ntsangane region, IMATU’s Eastern Cape region as well the Unemployed People’s Movement’s Ayanda Kota and a representative from the taxi industry.

 

About 60 taxis accompanied SAMWU- and IMATU-affiliated staff of Makana Municipality.

The unions say there has been political interference in administrative matters and they say it was over such interference that Mene resigned. Mene handed in his resignation days after Council rejected his proposed solution to wage discrepancies in the institution. Mene, as an invited member of the Local Labour Forum, was central to negotiating a deal with unions to compensate Makana employees whose jobs have not undergone formal evaluation since 2006.

Speeches and placards called for the resignation of the so-called Troika – the Mayor, Speaker and Chief Whip – of the ANC-led Council.

The Unemployed People’s Movement’s Ayanda Kota addresses Makana employees.

The Speaker’s Office is the designated petitions co-ordinator for the municipality but with Yandiswa Vara among those in the unions’ sights, Co-operative Governance MEC Xolile Nqatha dispatched the provincial department’s Rapid Response team to receive and acknowledge the petition. Cogta’s Mfundo Nzukuma signed the petition, while colleague Ron West took notes for the report-back to their boss.

LISTEN: COGTA Rapid Response team member Ron West explains the process from receiving the petition:

Mfundo Nzukuma signs the petition from SAMWU and IMATU, while provincial Department of Co-operative Governance colleague Ron West looks on.

‘Hands off our Municipal Manager’ is the first demand on the petition, and the one that’s most relevant to this week’s events.

Mene has not answered Grocott’s Mail’s calls to confirm the accounts of events we’ve been told, and according to his personal assistant he has been on sick leave since Tuesday. So we’re sharing what we’ve been told by various sources (not confirmed by Mene) and what we can confirm because it’s in Council documents.

A report by Mene to the full Council meeting on 30 October proposed a way to compensate staff for salary discrepancies. “In an attempt to rectify the salary irregularities of the past decade, the Local Labour Forum established a Salary Discrepancy Committee with terms of reference,” Mene explained in the report.

Mene proposed that there be no back pay for the affected employees, but that they should instead be advanced five notches within their job grades. This would be across the board, with the exception of directors, managers and previous beneficiaries.

The Local Labour Forum is an extension of the national collective bargaining arrangement in local government. Here in Makana, alongside the union representatives, it’s mostly made up of ANC councillors – Nombulelo Masome (chairperson), Luyanda Nase, Mthunzi Fatyi and Thembakazi Seyisi. New DA councillor Luvuyo Sizani is that party’s lone representative. The Municipal Manager, Grocott’s Mail understands, was attending the Forum by invitation.

Zola Kolisi, Chairperson of Makana’s South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) branch, addresses SAMWU and IMATU members.

Why the unions have a grievance

The following background combines information in Mene’s report  and (separately) explanations by Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa and SAMWU’s Wandile Duruwe.

Three concurrent organograms in use in Makana Municipality led to unfair labour practice. An organogram is a diagram that shows an organisation’s structure and how the various positions link with each other. It shows who reports to whom, and how various positions are ranked  in an organisation, as well as  job titles, names, and areas of responsibility. (Update: there is finally a single organogram for Makana).

Job evaluation at Makana was last done in 2006, meaning some employees had been stuck in the same grades and notches for more than 12 years. The process of evaluating new jobs, and reviewing existing ones to ensure pay and grading is appropriate to the job’s duties and responsibilities should happen every three years.

SAMWU said blatant favouritism was in evidence because a few positions were hand-picked for evalution and regrading over the past decade. (Grocott’s Mail will report further on this once we have seen the relevant documentation).

Some job descriptions were enhanced, but there was no documentation showing they’d been evaluated, SAMWU said.

Makana had continued to pay some employees according to job gradings that had been abolished. For example, Duruwe said, 126 employees were absorbed on Task Grade 1. “That task grade has been abolished,” Duruwe said. “No one in any other muicipality is still on that task grade. They were supposed to be moved to task grade 3.”

 

LISTEN: Zola Kolisi addresses municipal workers:

How Council responded to the proposal by the MM

In the 30 October Council meeting, councillors said the proposal needed to be fleshed out. They wanted to see figures that showed what the financial implications would be for the municipality.

Speaking to Grocott’s Mail after a special council meeting on Friday 8 November, Mpahlwa denied that Council’s requirement the proposal be reworked was as a result of political interference.

“We did not reject the proposal,” he said. “There was not enough meat on it and we asked him to fill in the gaps. That’s what happened.”

Other sources have claimed that pressure was put on Mene to withdraw his proposal by the ANC Subregion and that this, in fact, is where the political interference occurred. Without being able to reach Mene, we could not have him confirm or deny that this was the point at which he decided to resign.

However, today Grocott’s Mail put this to ANC Subregion Chairperson Mabhuti Matyumza, who replied: “That is not true at all. There is no way the ANC can discuss salary matters – the institution [municipality]was dealing with this. There is no way the ANC Subregion could interfere in that.”

The salary discrepancies proposal was part of a confidential section of yesterday’s meeting and so the Mayor confirmed that it was discussed but did not give details.

What else happened in yesterday’s Council meeting?

Along with this in yesterday’s special council sitting:
♦ LED Director Riana Meiring was appointed acting municipal manager;
♦ A report on the process of bringing electricity to Inkanini informal settlement was noted;
♦ The chief financial officer tabled a revised budget. National Treasury had instructed Makana to trim it down considerably before they would accept it.
♦ CFO Gerard Goliath tabled a financial recovery plan for Makana. “We want input from the public on this and will be putting the plan out for public comment,” Mpahlwa told Grocott’s Mail. “It’s part of the municipality’s turnaround strategy and we will adopt it in January.”

VIDEO:
https://www.facebook.com/grocotts/videos/2450686248521976/

The problem – and why the unions took to the streets

SAMWU Secretary for the Pinkie Ntsangana (Sarah Baartman) Region Wandile Duruwe says dealing with the wage discrepancies is a straightforward administrative matter.

Grocott’s Mail understands that Council sought advice from the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) on the matter. SALGA advised that the Local Labour Forum had no jurisdiction over salary negotiations.

Not only was going behind  Mene’s back undermining the authority of the institution’s chief accounting officer, Duruwe told Grocott’s Mail, but the advice was wrong because the Mayor hadn’t given SALGA proper terms of reference.

“This is nothing to do with salary increases,” Duruwe said. It’s about discrepancies – so that advice was wrong.

“Anything to do with salaries is handled by the national bargaining council. [the South African Local Government Bargaining Council comprising SAMWU, IMATU and the South African Local Government Association],” Duruwe said.

“But this is not to do with salaries: people were wrongly paid so it’s the municipality’s prerogative to correct those errors itself (ie the municipal manager and senior management team).

“There is nothing that talks about the approval of council being required – they only have to note it. This is a purely administrative matter,” Duruwe emphasised.

“It seems the political wing want to take matters into their own hands and don’t want to give us what is due to us.

“We are saying as SAMWU and IMATU, ‘Hands off the MM’ because we believe he did nothing wrong,” Duruwe said.

“We are also saying to the Cogta MEC he must ask Mene to withdraw his resignation. Since he arrived here, we have stability and people are no longer looting [the municipality’s resources]. We feel this is a personal attack to force him to resign so people can go back to the looting. We are saying hands off, we want Council dissolved. We have no trust because of political interference in administrative matters.”

LISTEN: The SACP says that here in Makana, the ANC side of the alliance doesn’t want to abide by decisions made by SACP partners.

COMING UP SOON

Grocott’s Mail will get comment from the South African Local Government Association and (hopefully) Mene. We’ll also ask alliance partners the SACP and the ANC to comment on their relationship locally, and how that’s affecting our municipality.

What other questions about this matter do you have? Send them to editor@grocotts.co.za and we’ll put them to the relevant person.

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