By JONATHAN WALTON
Worker strikes led by trade unions are not everyone’s cup of tea. Worker strikes are often disliked because of conservative perceptions and lack of understanding. Whether people like it or not, trade unions and worker strikes are protected by the Constitution[i] and labour law[ii]. In summary, workers enjoy certain constitutional rights that must be exercised legally and responsibly.
‘Go slow’ or ‘tools down’ are forms of worker protests provided trade unions adhere to the rules regulating strikes. Workers do not embark on strikes at the spur of the moment. Often strikes are triggered by unresolved work-related complaints or failure by employers to comply with negotiated bargaining council agreements, or employers defaulting on the paying workers’ contributions to pension or provident funds, unemployment insurance or medical aid benefits.
At Makana Municipality, it is alleged that the municipality (employer) has defaulted on paying workers’ contributions to “third parties.” It can only be assumed that the “third parties” are the pension and provident funds, the unemployment insurance fund, insurance companies and medical aid schemes. If this is true, it is a serious and costly transgression with serious financial implications for workers and their dependents. For example, families will struggle to bury their loved ones if the municipality deducts premiums on insurance policies and does not pay the whole premiums to insurance companies.
To understand the implications of employers defaulting on payments to pension or provident funds, trade union representatives are advised to read Clement Marumogae’s article titled ‘Deducting amounts from salaries and failing to pay – employers brought to book by the law’ that was published in De Rebus[iii]
Several financially distressed municipalities across the country have been successfully taken to court by retirement fund administrators and medical aid schemes for defaulting on payments to retirement funds. To address this problem, the Pension Funds Act[iv] was amended by the Financial Services Laws General Amendment Act 45 of 2013[v] to provide for the institution of criminal proceedings against defaulting employers.
The municipality’s accounting officers (Municipal Manager and Chief Financial Officer) or any participating employer may face severe criminal charges for not paying pension fund contributions to retirement funds. If trade unions such as SAMWU and IMATU are serious and genuine about the needs and interests of workers, trade unions should seriously consider seeking urgent recourse through the courts or lodge complaints with the Pension Funds Adjudicator[vi], Ombudsman for Short and Long Term Insurance[vii], etc.
Trade unions should not see these problems and transgressions through political lenses. These are administrative issues. Failing to pay contributions to retirement funds, medical aid schemes, etc., can cause unnecessary hardship for workers and their families.
From this experience, trade unions at Makana Municipality must be more robust and demand accountability and compliance at the institutionalized local labour forum. For example, trade unions must demand regular disclosure of payment schedules to retirement funds, medical aid schemes, insurance companies, UIF and SARS.
Regarding the implementation of SA Local Government Bargaining Council[viii] resolutions and agreements, trade unions must demand progress reports on the implementation of resolutions and agreements. For example, in 2019, Council adopted a resolution to rectify salary disparities. The Directorate of Corporate Services never implemented the resolution on this issue.
The rectification of salary disparities resulted from the SA Local Government Bargaining Council. Did workers demand accountability from their representatives on the non-implementation of the resolution on rectifying salary disparities?
The laws on these transgressions are not on the side of the municipality. A sweetheart relationship with the employer will not help the social justice cause of workers. Municipal workers must use the law to advance the social justice cause.
It’s time for trade union leaders at Makana Municipality to rethink their relationship with the “leadership”. Trade union leaders cannot be seen to be in the pockets of management and political leaders.
If workers’ rights are respected and fulfilled by management, service delivery will not be compromised. Sadly workers at Makana Municipality are victims of an administration that has and still is being mismanaged.
[i] Section 23, Constitution – Everyone has the right to fair labour practice
[ii] Labour Relations Act, 1995