National Minimum Wage: state of readiness for way forward

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Employment and Labour

18 February 2015
Chairperson: Ms L Yengeni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Labour held a meeting to deliberate and to receive reports on the state of readiness of the support team regarding the public hearings on the national minimum wage, and to air their opinion on lapses in the Parliamentary support system.  

The Chairperson expressed concern over examples of incompetence by the Committee’s support team. Some of these lapses were due to the failure to replace the former Committee Researcher after her resignation, incompetent security personnel, wishy-washy security arrangements, poor quality of reports produced, a lack of proper mobilisation for public hearings and inadequate networking with the appropriate bodies. These concerns were strongly supported by most of the Committee.

Other Members raised issues relating to embarrassments they had experienced at public hearings, insufficient mobilisation -- especially towards the targeted audiences – haphazard and rushed planning, and inadequate accommodation and poor treatment for them and their support staff on each trip. They called for officials to be honest about difficulties being experienced, for security officials to be up to date with information, especially when threats were circulated regarding public hearings, for proper security measures to be put in place, for the proper education of core support staff as regards responsibility, and adequate communication with SAPS long before Members embarked on visits.

Responding to the issues raised, the Section Manager tendered the unit’s apologies for all the lapses and assured the Members that they would be addressed so that future public hearings would see a change in the right direction. Security issues would be discussed with the Head of Security in Parliament and specific measures would be taken to curb security lapses. Furthermore, an advance team would be sent to venues from the Parliament, prior the arrival of the Members.

The Head of Research apologised for the difficulties that Members had encountered in respect of the vacuum created by the resignation of the former researcher. The unit had planned to bring in researchers with a strong labour background to stand in until a replacement could be obtained, but it was felt that these persons would not be fully committed to the Committee, and this could endanger the success of the Committee’s assignments. In the meantime, the unit would bring in someone to assist. On the quality of the work produced, the unit would do its best to prevent sub-standard reports in future. On the issue of employing a consultant for the Committee, there was consensus that outsourcing was not an option and that within the shortest possible time, interviews should be conducted and a person with the relevant qualifications should be employed.

The Chairperson suggested that Content Advisers would get better results if there was a good working relationship between themselves and the several groups or unions they were involved with. For example, if the relationships with the unions in Cape Town were strengthened, it would produce and enhance a better relationship with the same unions in other municipalities. Personal one-on-one engagements and interaction went a long way to enhancing cordial relationships.

There was extensive discussion on the dates, times and venues of the public hearings, with concern that the current plans might require Members to cut short their attendance at Parliamentary plenary sessions in order to catch flights from Cape Town. Furthermore, Fridays were pay days for farm workers. After much deliberation, it was agreed that one Saturday and three Fridays around 6pm could be allocated for the public hearings, but that all must be completed in March.

A minute’s silence was observed for a former ANC member of the Committee, Mr Hlakudi Nkoana, who had recently passed on. 

Meeting report

The Chairperson, in her opening remarks, welcomed the Committee Members and the Parliamentary Research Unit. The focal point of the meeting was to find out whether the Support Team had put everything needed in place for subsequent public hearings.

She expressed concern because the Research Unit had not provided a replacement for the former Committee Researcher, Ms Sindisiwe Mkhize, after her resignation. Since Ms Mkhize’s resignation had not been an accidental one, a vacuum should not have been created regarding her position in the Committee. She was amazed that up till now there had been no formal communication with the Committee from the Research Unit regarding a replacement. She reminded the unit that the Committee was presently involved with very serious projects and should therefore be given all the support needed, so that its assignments were not frustrated. The overall manager of the unit must have known what was transpiring in his unit at all times, including the challenges encountered by its members being deployed to Committees.

The head of the unit should also, on a consistent basis, check the quality of the work being carried out by the members of the unit. She gave an example of the two researchers that had been in the Portfolio Committee on Appropriations – her previous committee – who were totally committed to their work and gave adequate feedback to the Members. Even though their tasks were not easy and the terrain quite difficult, they still put their all into the work. She pointed out that the person that should have taken over the position of the Committee Researcher should have been a part of the Committee long before Ms Mkhize left. She hoped that there was a substitute already, and that the Research Unit would not give further excuses.

The Chairperson recalled her couple of meetings with the Committee Secretary about the poor quality of work being produced for the Committee. She had insisted that an assistant be appointed for the Content Adviser to assist with the quality of reports being produced. The Committee was up for failure if the present quality of work was sustained. The best person available must be appointed to fill the positions of Committee Researcher and Assistant Content Adviser. This would ensure the best possible output for the Committee. She requested that Members raise other salient issues for the attention of the Research Unit.

Ms F Loliwe (ANC) proposed that all the issues that had been raised by the Chairperson and would be subsequently raised by other Members should be treated singly and not lumped together, so that it would be easy for the support team to understand their grievances. This was crucial, because the success of the upcoming public hearings must not be jeopardised. The support staff must brief the Committee on their state of readiness – what they had learnt from previous sessions, who they had contacted and the like. It had been discovered in previous public hearings that the targeted audiences had not been the ones that had been mobilised for the meetings.

The Chairperson added that there had even been times that the support team of the Committee had been positive about their state of readiness when asked, only for Committee Members to be met with surprises on arriving at the site of the public hearing. She hoped, however, that since the managers were available, they would be able to assist in ensuring that proper things were done henceforth. She suggested that Members should give the delegation from the research unit specific instances of situations where the support staff had failed in their responsibilities to the Committee.   
Ms Loliwe commented that there had been times on previous visits that there seemed to have been confusion on the roles played by either the politicians or the officials. She recounted a particular public hearing, where the Committee Members were embarrassed because the interpreter had publicly confronted the Chairperson. Committee Members could not afford to be embarrassed at these public hearings. The staff members delegated to see to the smooth running of the hearings must see to it that issues like these did not recur. If the support team encountered any bottlenecks when arrangements were being made, these should be brought to the attention of the Members. It was also important that when public hearings were held, intensified mobilisation should be made for the targeted audience. In several municipalities, Members had been disappointed when sometimes the wrong audience, or very few of the intended groups, were in attendance. The environment that the Members operated in was volatile and a conscious effort must be made to beef up security and ensure that the security officials were brought up to date on the Committee’s assignments. For example, in KZN, the security detail had not been properly arranged and the public hearing almost collapsed because of the lack of proper security arrangements. She refuted the notion of these public hearings being viewed as a touring opportunity, because this was not so.

Ms S van Schalkwyk (ANC) agreed with Ms Loliwe on the issues she had raised. It had also to be noted that no support staff was more important than the other. No one should act laid back -- everyone was part of the bigger picture and everyone should make themselves relevant. On logistics, advance planning should be put in place so that success was achieved. Haphazard and rushed planning should be curbed. The support staff in charge of accommodation must be aware of what the guidelines were in securing accommodation for Members. Members were not asking for five-star treatment, but decent accommodation should be arranged for them and the support staff on each trip. If difficulties were being experienced, questions should be asked and information sought from the necessary quarters so that Members did not meet with surprises at the point of arrival. The support staff must be honest and upfront, instead of assuring the members that everything had been taken care of. Security officials must be up to date with information, especially when threats were being circulated regarding public hearings. There had been times that Members had been the ones to inform the security staff or support staff of media information or threats at the sites of the public hearings. This should not be so. If any support staff were not up to the task, the person should be honest enough to speak up so that competent hands could be called in to man the position.

Mr P Moteka (EFF) laid emphasis on the security issue. The risks of being attacked at these public hearings were high and as such, the security lapses must be aptly taken care of. He gave an illustration with one of the public hearings that was held in Gauteng, where Members had received information that there was a security threat in place to disrupt the meeting. Unfortunately, more risks of being attacked had arisen, as the right route to the location had not been previously charted, parking had not been arranged, and other plans had not been put in place. If the information received on the threat had been carried out, it would have worked perfectly. He pleaded with the support staff that no mistakes should be made in terms of security so as to ensure the safety of everyone. Additionally, when mobilisations were made, all the relevant groups must be contacted so that these public hearings were maximised to meet their intended targets.

The Chairperson pointed out that the managers of the support unit had to properly educate the core support staff - the Committee Secretary, the Content Adviser and the Committee Researcher - on the assistance role they might have to perform when with the Committee, even though it was not directly related to their jobs. These staff must not have an attitude that they were only in the Committee to perform their core duties, and no other tasks. On security, there should be adequate communication with SAPS long before Members embarked on these visits so that adequate preparations could be made for the safety of the whole entourage. Mobilisation must be properly organised, so that every trade union group would be fully represented at public hearings. If poor planning took place repeatedly, the public and interested groups may come to the conclusion that the public hearings were deliberately planned to sideline certain groups, without realising that the situation was the result of poor planning.

Ms P Mantashe (ANC) was of the opinion that it was improper for the security and support staff to leave Cape Town at the same time as the Members, especially if they had not properly and previously settled every necessary matter.   

Mr Moteka commended the support staff on the security arrangements made in Port Elizabeth when the Members attended a public hearing.

The Chairperson responded that the security arrangements at Port Elizabeth had been organised and spearheaded by one of the Members of the Parliament, long before the entourage had arrived in the city.

Responding to all the issues raised, Mr S Tshabalala, the Section Manager and the one responsible for the Committees in the Parliament, apologised for all the lapses that had been encountered and enumerated by the Members. He assured them that the issues raised would be addressed, and that subsequent public hearings would witness a change in the right direction. On the issue of security, he agreed that a lot of work needed to be done and said that these issues would be discussed with the Head of Security in Parliament so that a way forward would be reached. On mobilisation, he admitted that previously Parliament had relied on their partners in the municipalities where the public hearings would take place, to mobilise the targeted audience. However, he proposed that in future an advance team would be sent to these venues from Parliament. This team would deal with the logistics – accommodation, mobilisation, security and the like. All arrangements made would be conveyed to the Members so that they were aware before they embarked on their journey.

It was quite regrettable that the Committee felt that it was not properly supported by the support staff. He apologised for this and pointed out that, as he had previously discussed with the Chairperson, the unit was presently short-staffed in the area of the content support needed for the Committee. A motivation had been put together for employment for a Content Specialist Adviser, who was a consultant. This was because the manner in which Parliament currently employed content advisers was based on specialisation. A person versed in relevant labour matters would be appointed as a matter of urgency. The unit had put together a draft business case that the consultant would be employed, and the document would be processed and signed as soon as possible by the Secretary to Parliament.  

Ms Van Schalkwyk added that the role of the travel agencies must be looked into.

The Chairperson asked why it was a consultant that had to be employed. There were so many people with the skills to perform this task. Employing a consultant would be more expensive.  

Mr Tshabalala responded that the decision to go for a consultant was due to the urgency of the matter, and the short term of the particular project at hand. To call for applications and schedule interviews and all the other issues involved with recruitment might take up to four months. The benefit of the consultant option was that it would allow the specific skill that the Committee needed to be made available almost immediately.

Ms Loliwe countered Mr Tshabalala’s response. She said that the Committee could not hire a person that would collect information for the Committee -- and then sell the information back to the Committee. That is what a consultant would do. She suggested that the Research Unit should appeal to Parliament and motivate for the recruitment of a neutral person. Outsourcing was not an option.

Mr Moteka was of the same opinion as Ms Loliwe. He emphasised that it was impossible for the Committee to be in opposition to a particular viewpoint - the employment of consultants - and then at a later date revert back to it.

The Chairperson confirmed that the Committee was totally against hiring a consultant. The Section Manager and his team should therefore review the current set of relevant CVs, and motivate for the employment of a qualified person.

Mr Tshabalala replied that the concerns raised had been noted, and the unit would proceed as instructed.

Ms C Rustin, Head of Research, apologised for the difficulties that Members had encountered in respect of the vacuum created by Ms Mkhize’s resignation. Ms Mkhize had not left unannounced, but it was unfortunate that an alternative plan had not been communicated early to the Committee. The unit had planned to bring in some of the researchers with a strong labour background to stand in until a replacement could be obtained. However, an issue that had arisen in this regard was that these persons might not have been fully committed to the Committee, which might endanger the success of the Committee’s assignments. The major problem encountered, as explained by Mr Tshabalala, was that the unit was currently short staffed, so there was no undesignated individual that could be assigned to the Committee. In the meantime, the unit would bring in someone to assist. The individual that had been asked to assist in the previous week’s public hearing was the labour researcher in the Select Committee on Labour, but another person had been earmarked to assist with the Committee. On the quality of the work produced, the unit would do its best to prevent sub-standard reports in future.    

The Chairperson suggested that Content Advisers would get better results if there was a good working relationship between themselves and the several groups or unions they were involved with. For example, if the relationships with the unions in Cape Town were strengthened, it would produce and enhance a better relationship with the same unions in other municipalities. Personal one-on-one engagements and interaction went a long way to enhancing cordial relationships.

The Chairperson appreciated the research unit team for honouring the Committee’s invitation. They were excused from the meeting.

Public hearing schedules
After a short break, the meeting was reconvened by the Chairperson.

Mr Mark Philander, Unit Manager of the Portfolio Committee on Labour, requested that the support staff in charge of the different aspects of the upcoming public hearings give some updates on how far they had gone with their planning and whether there were possible challenges they were facing.

Mr Zolani Sakasa, the Committee Secretary, pointed out that all public hearings had been planned for Fridays, which meant that plenaries would be held on Thursdays. These plenaries could continue till 5pm and this would affect the Members’ flights out of Cape Town on Thursdays. The support staff was on the verge of making an application to the Chief Whip to allow a concession for Members to leave at a certain stage on that particular date, so as to give them ample time to catch their flights.

Ms Tamara Cawe, one of the unit managers, added that the flight to the Northern Cape on a Thursday left at 4.50pm, so if plenaries were held till 5.30pm and the Members were not allowed to leave earlier, there would be a problem with catching their flights. That was why an application was being proposed. A challenge was also envisaged with the Friday the 27th scheduled public hearing date. This was the payday for farm workers and also a working day, therefore the support staff proposed that the public hearing should either be scheduled for later on the same day or postponed till the next day, which was a Saturday. This decision was crucial, as it would determine the attendance of the farm workers at the public hearing.

Ms Loliwe was of the opinion that making a request to allow some concession for Members to leave early would be making a joke of the processes of the Parliament. She suggested that if Members could make an exception for the Northern Cape province, the public hearing could be shifted to a Saturday to allow the Members to attend the plenaries on Thursdays and then leave Cape Town on Friday.        

Mr I Ollis (DA) confirmed that the whole weekend would be busy for workers, as they had to get their groceries and their various needs. He then proposed that the public hearing of the 27th be shifted to the following month, but not to the end of another month. It could also give the Members a Friday off, as there were no other free Fridays.  

A consensus was reached by the Members that a Saturday should be used for the public hearing for the farm workers, but must not fall at a month end. The support staff was mandated to see to this.

Mr Sakasa sought clarification as to whether all four of the upcoming public hearings would be rescheduled for Saturdays.

Mr Moteka added that when dealing with farm workers, Members would have to make some compromise so that the public hearings could be slotted for Saturdays. He also confirmed that a month end was not the best time to engage with the farm workers.

Mr Ollis asked if the Members were prepared to go to public hearings for four weekends in a row. He reminded them that they would not be able to carry out their constituency assignments for a month. He was of the opinion that only one Saturday was appropriate.

Ms T Tongwane (ANC) indicated that there were no flights on Saturdays to the Northern Cape, and the number of flights between Cape Town and Kimberly had been reduced.

The Chairperson asked the support staff to deal with all the logistics and to inform the Members on the way forward. She proposed that the public hearings could be held on Friday afternoons as an alternative to Saturdays. Transport could be arranged to take the farm workers home after the hearing.

Mr Moteka confirmed that Friday nights around 7pm would be more applicable, as Friday afternoons would not be convenient for the farm workers. He understood that Members might not be able to carry out their constituency assignments for four weeks in a row, but it was also important to note that the public was still being served at these hearings.

After much deliberation, it was agreed that one Saturday and three Fridays around 6pm could be allocated for these public hearings, and that all the public hearings must be completed in March.

Ms Loliwe asked who the contact persons in each of the provinces were.

The Chairperson responded that the contact persons were unchanged.

Mr Philander reminded the Committee Members that whatever changes were being made would still have to be submitted to the Committee Chairperson for authorisation.

The Chairperson replied that she was sure that if the change of dates were properly motivated, taking into account all the concerns that had been raised, there would be no hesitation in getting the new dates approved.

Mr Sakasa said that in view of the more intensive mobilisation strategy, he had informed and invited all the federations. He had made contact with their contact persons and had ensured that they acknowledged the receipt of the Committee’s invitation. Letters had been sent to the Municipal Mangers and Mayors in each province so as to create more awareness of the public hearings and to solicit their assistance with the mobilisation strategies. He asked whether any Members knew of anyone that could be contacted in any of these provinces to assist with mobilisation. One main challenge with the Northern Cape was its vast area and the farms that were so far apart from each other, making transportation a bit uncertain. The Department of Agriculture had also tendered a concern about the farmers not releasing their workers, but the support team was optimistic that the overseeing bodies would persuade the farmers to release their workers. In Mpumalanga, a challenge that had just arisen was that the venue that the team had previously visited and approved had just been changed a day before, and an alternative had yet to be decided.
Mr Bradley Viljoen, the Administrative Coordinator for the Committees, said he was a part of the advance team for some of the provinces. The Northern Cape -- the area where the public hearings would take place -- had the biggest community hall with a sitting capacity of 450. A few days before the advance team had arrived in the province, there had been some political issues that had warranted the Mayor and the Municipal Manager being relieved of their duties, and the advance team had not been able speak to the acting Mayor or Municipal Manager. The hall was in a poor condition and a request had been made to have the building painted. Air conditioners and generators had also been arranged for the hearing.  
Ms Van Schalkwyk pointed out that some areas of the province had been fully mobilised, while a few others needed much more intensive attention.

The Chairperson asked Ms Van Schalkwyk to advise the Committee on the way forward regarding mobilisation in the Northern Cape, as this was her constituency.

Ms Van Schalkwyk advised that the people in the area relied more on loudhailers, rather than pamphlets. Continually liaising with the Department of Agriculture would also assist a great deal.

Ms Loliwe raised her concern regarding the continued relationship between the Committee and the municipalities. Previous experience had shown that the Municipal Manager would just send an sms the day before to inform the people of the public hearing that would be taking place, and that transport and refreshments would be provided. This kind of mobilisation just produced a large turnout of the wrong set of people. She emphasised the role of an intensified cordial communication between the Committee and the municipalities. There must be no breakdown in communication.

The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to give her a list of the contact persons and municipalities, their Mayors and their Municipal Mangers. This would enable her to follow up personally. She reiterated that the public hearings were specifically for the trade unions, so the Committee would not want to place an imposition on the Mayor or the Municipal Manager. The Committee Secretary must be up to date on all the trade unions that were operating in every province and report back to her on all the issues discussed. On transportation, she emphasised that vehicles that were in good condition and decent drivers should be arranged so that Members were not embarrassed or stranded. A Plan B must always be arranged in case of emergencies.

Mr Philander replied that all the comments had been noted, and appropriate steps would be taken.

Ms Portia Ntabeni, Committee Coordinator, informed Members that accommodation had been secured at the Protea Hotel in Kimberly because there was no suitable accommodation in the Northern Cape. She had discovered that the hotel that had been identified by the advance team in Mpumalanga would not be suitable for the Members, so an alternative arrangement had been made with the Southern Sun in Nelspruit. In Polowane, arrangements had been made at the Protea Hotel.

Ms Loliwe pointed out that there were two Protea Hotels in Kimberly, so the actual hotel that the support team was identifying must be clarified. It was also important that non-smoking rooms be obtained for the Members.

The Chairperson suggested that guest houses could also be considered when accommodation was being sought. The support staff must also ensure that it made a physical appearance at these hotels to ensure their current condition.

Mr Philander circulated a sheet of paper that gave a detail of the list of languages that would be needed at each of the provinces for the public hearing. The list of the protection services would be submitted as soon as possible, as there was a meeting that had been scheduled after the Committee meeting.

After deliberation, IsiPedi was included as one of the languages to be interpreted in Mpumalanga, and IsiXhosa was included in the Northern Cape province.

The Chairperson proposed that Mr Moteka and Mr M Plouamma (AGANG) could also assist with interpretation at these provinces.

The Chairperson reminded the Members that Mr Hlakudi Nkoana, a former Member of the Committee, who had been off sick for a while, had recently passed on. She proposed that a one minute silence be observed for the late Member. A minute’s silence was observed.

The Chairperson thanked for their attendance.
The meeting was adjourned.

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