Labour Inspectorate high staff turnover: Department of Labour briefing

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

18 September 2012
Chairperson: Ms M Themba (Mpumalanga, ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Labour briefed the Committee on the steps to be taken to address the high staff turnover in the Labour Inspectorate section.  Funds had been allocated for the 2012-13 financial year to create posts that would boost the muscle of the Department, especially in the enforcement sector. A specialisation model would provide for a career path for inspectors and would ensure that the Department could build capacity at provincial level and at the head office. Problematic areas included non-compliance on labour market policies; the number of reported cases had dramatically increased. In 2011/12 complaints increased by 154 000. Most of them were with the security sector, hospitality, agriculture, forestry and the retail sector. Challenges ranged from non-payment of wages, paying below the minimum age, especially in the farming sector, and non-payment of provident fund.

Members concerns included their annoyance that they had heard the same briefing before. They asked about the steps taken to address challenges such as non-compliance, the role of the Department in the Marikana platinum strike, the unfilled vacant positions that had not been filled, and ongoing problems related to the information and communications technology (ICT) case flow system.


Meeting report

Department of Labour (DoL) briefing
Mr Thobile Lamati, DoL Acting Chief Director: Employment Services, mentioned that the Department had experienced a high staff turnover resulting in the loss of requisite skills. R50 million was allocated for the 2012-13 financial year to create posts that would boost the muscle of the Department, especially in the enforcement sector. A specialisation model would provide for a career path for inspectors and would enable the inspectorate to measure the impact of legislation in the areas of specialisation. The model would ensure that the Department would build capacity at provincial level and at the head office. The Labour Inspectorate would work effectively only with the correct tools of the trade.

The telecommunications policy enabled inspectors to obtain a cell phone allowance and apply for subsidised cars. The Department had ordered 250 cars that would mostly be used as pool cars. The case management system development had commenced in August 2007 and was supposed to be completed in 2009. Siemens, the appointed service provider, failed to live up to expectation. The Department decide to terminate its engagement with Siemens on all application development. A new information and communications technology (ICT) strategy was in the development phase and would be finished within three to six months.

Problematic areas included non-compliance on labour market policies; the number of reported cases had dramatically increased. In 2011/12 complaints increased by 154 000. Most of them were with the security sector, hospitality, agriculture, forestry and the retail sector. Challenges ranged from non-payment of wages, paying below the minimum age, especially in the farming sector, and non-payment of provident fund. Most of the problematic sector did not comply with health and safety regulations. Legal notice was issued to employers that did not comply. (See presentation document).

Discussion
Mr M Sibande (Mpumalanga, ANC) said that the Committee did not appreciate repeat or cut and paste briefings. The presentation was a summary of the 2010-11 reports presented to the Committee a long time ago on things like the problems with aligning ICT, and tools of work such as laptops, cell phones and unavailability of cars, etc. Slide 12 of the presentation clearly showed that the was briefing was a rehashed version of an old briefing document He then complained that the proposed structure of the model for labour inspectors was unworkable because it did not take the provinces into consideration; provinces like the Eastern Cape and the Northern Cape were too vast to be served by three labour inspectors. He raised his concern regarding the continuing use of appointing people to acting positions to fill vacant posts on a temporary basis.

Mr Lamati replied that the Department was in the process of filling the vacant posts. The Department had procured 275 cars. Siemens had been the appointed service provider for harmonising the ICT problem. The newly appointed Chief Information Officer had advised the DG to terminate the contracts with Siemens Technologies. Another service provider would be appointed within the next three to six months. The Model was designed with provincial application in mind. The Department had made provision from its allocation for the money for the tools of the trade, such as laptops, furniture and cell phones. The ideal situation was for the Department to reach all provinces, but the problem was that the Department would be implementing a pilot phase of using labour inspectors in all provinces. In the future the project could be expanded.

Ms L Mabija (Limpopo, ANC) suggested that the Committee should make a decision whether to continue or adjourn the meeting and give the Department's delegation time to prepare properly.

Mr H Groenewald (North West, DA) said that the Department should set its house in order and come clean about the solutions that would help set up labour inspectors.

Mr Z Mlenzana (Eastern Cape, COPE) said that the Department should simply tell the Committee whether it was making progress or not.

Mr O de Beer (Western Cape, COPE) cautioned Members not to send the Department's delegation back because it might have answers to some of the questions that would be asked. He also pointed out that the delegation was using hard-earned tax payers' money for flights and accommodation.

The Chairperson felt that the report did not reflect any progress on challenges facing the Department since February, such as the vacant posts that remained unfilled after six months. She then urged the delegation to explain to Members about the reasons for slow progress.

Mr Mlenzana argued that the Committee could not continue just to save money while wasting time; the Department could rather furnish the Committee with information regarding improvements.

The Chairperson tried to simplify his question and asked what the delegation had been doing to address challenges.

Mr Lamati explained that it was not the intention of his delegation to deceive the Committee; however, it would provide an explanation of problems that had been plaguing the labour inspector initiative. He said that his delegation would explain what happened. The presentation had listed the problems with solutions but the solutions were not clearly articulated.

Mr M Jacobs (Free State, ANC) asked about the number of inspectors that would be allocated to each district because Members had to inform their constituencies. He said that Members needed to know which publications would advertise the posts for labour Inspectors so that they could inform citizens to apply. He asked for clarity regarding sourcing of cars; he then asked the source of funds for the new vehicles. He asked whether the Department had any savings because the posts were vacant.

Mr Lamati replied that information on the distribution of labour inspectors in districts would be forwarded to the Committee. The Department advertised vacant posts through the City Press, but would be willing to consider regional media to make sure that advertisements would reach every corner of the country.

Mr De Beer said that farm employees were the most exploited sector. As per the report of the research done by the Women On Farms Project wages of farm workers differed from one area to another; and the dop system was still prevalent, especially in the Western Cape. Occupational Health and Safety regulations were totally ignored by the farm owners. He asked about measures that would be in place to ensure that laws and regulations were adhered to in the agriculture sector. He suggested that the Department should utilise the car pool system because most workers were blacklisted in credit bureaus, therefore workers would be unable to utilise the car subsidy scheme.

Mr Lamati explained that the posts for labour inspectors would be funded from the remaining R28 million.

Mr Thembinkosi Mkhaliphi, DoL Chief Director: Labour Relations, replied that seasonal workers who worked for more than 24 hours a month enjoyed the same benefits as full-time workers. In the agriculture sector seasonal workers were supposed to be protected by the sector determination. Public hearings had been held to look at amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (No. 75 of 1997); the National Assembly was busy with that process. The promulgation period would be used for the training of new labour inspectors.
Mr Groenewald asked about the entity that would be responsible to maintain Departmental vehicles. He also asked for clarity on the role of the Department in the mining crisis triggered by the Marikana massacre.

Mr Lamati explained that the Department would fix its own vehicles.

Mr Les Kettledas, DoL Deputy Director-General: Labour Market Policy, explained that the President had established an Inter-Ministerial Committee to deal with the crisis a few days later after the shootings. The Department was involved through the task team that was set up by the Inter-Ministerial Committee. A meeting was held between the unions and the Department including the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) even though the strike was illegal. The workers had demanded R12 500 and the amount was interpreted in a variety of ways. The South African Council of Churches then initiated a peace accord while negotiations were continuing. Some unions signed the peace accord while others refused point blank. The CCMA then asked the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Solidarity to reopen the minimum wage deal. The process evolved and the workers made a lower demand widely regarded as ridiculous. The employer was faced with a problem because it could not fire the striking workers and employ a new workforce. The strikers could easily disrupt the whole process because were staying on the doorstep of the mines. They would never allow anyone to work while they were striking. After weeks of negotiations a settlement was reached. The CCMA and the Department played a significant role in the process; workers families were also contacted regarding funeral arrangements of the deceased. Of the 44 people who died only 34 people were employed by Lonmin; other workers were employed by independent contractors, while one was boarded the previous year. The Department of Health was busy with conducting post mortem examinations. The Department had been busy channelling Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits to the families of the deceased. The workers who were from the neighbouring countries did not qualify for UIF. The two police who were shot were covered by the Government Employees Pension Fund. The Ministers of Labour and Mineral Resources were looking at a long term strategy that would set up a platinum bargaining council along the lines of the arrangements in the gold industry for collective bargaining. A commission of enquiry headed by Judge Fulham had been set up to investigate the whole debacle and its work would be starting on 01 October 2012 and would be complete within four months.

Mr Mlenzana enquired about steps taken to address the ITC challenge. Employers were not complying with regulations that were meant to protect workers; he asked the Department to explain about measures in place to address that problem.

Mr Lamati replied that provinces that had economies dominated by agriculture, such as Limpopo, would be given priority when looking at workers rights. Siemens was selected to be the ICT service provider but, after numerous tests were conducted, the Department decided terminate the contract. Some employers were even taken to the Labour Court for child labour. Lonmin had made an offer to the striking workers; the offer was refused by the workers.

Mr Jacobs lauded the role of the Department in handling the Marikana issue.

Mr Mabija asked for clarity on the cross border migrant labour system.

Mr Mkhaliphi explained that cross border migrant labourers were also protected by the laws of the land. The Department had been working with Immigration officials on the issue. He said that legislation dealing with regularising of bringing in foreign workers was on the cards.

Mr Sibande asked about the Department's relationship with the traditional leaders in rural areas, and how vulnerable seasonal workers were protected by legislation.

Mr Lamati explained that the regional managers were the ones who would be dealing with traditional leaders.
Mr Jacobs asked about the implications when workers' leaders negotiated on behalf of workers even though they were not registered as unions. He asked about the amount earned by Lonmin workers after the negotiated settlement.

Mr Kettledas replied that the negotiations emanated from an illegal strike and therefore would not have any legal implications as far as industrial relations were concerned. Murray & Roberts had indicated that they would not be renewing their contract with their contract employees from October 2012. Workers agreed to accept R11 000 before deductions. The take home pay would improve slightly. The implications were for unions to consolidate their workplace structures. Unions in all sectors would have to go back to basics. Marikana should serve as a wake up call for unions to focus on workers' issues. South Africa was signatory to the International Labour Organisation Charter regarding the right of workers to freedom of association.

The meeting was adjourned.

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