Mitchells Plan & Nyanga Labour Centres: Department of Labour response to Committee recommendations

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Employment and Labour

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

The Department of Labour had been requested to make a response to the findings of the Committee on various labour centres, but rather than confining itself to a report only on the Mitchells Plain and Nyanga Labour Centres, the Department described the problems overall, what had been done to address them, and stressed that this report covered the centres and offices in most dire need of attention. The Committee noted that it would be making unannounced visits to centres, notably a follow up at Mitchells Plain and Nyanga, to assess the current situation.

It was evident that the DOL faced serious challenges regarding maintenance of the buildings which housed offices and Labour Centres. There were a total of 317 offices of the Department, of which 113 were state owned and 204 were privately leased. Some centres had been closed due to non-compliance with Occupational Health and Safety regulations. The Department of Labour said that the main problem with the procurement of new premises lay with the Department of Public Works. Five new Labour Centres would be constructed during the 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years. The Department outlined the problems and solutions found for the offices at Ulundi, Prospector and Park Rynie in KwaZulu Natal, Mthatha, Lusikisiki and Mount Ayliff in Eastern Cape, and Sebokeng in Gauteng, which had been closed in 2012 and could not find offices since then, and the Johannesburg Labour Centre which had been closed for non-compliance with Occupational Health and Safety standards. In North West province, in Rustenburg, the Department had attempted to put up shelter to deal with the very small waiting area, and in Mpumalanga new offices had been procured for Carolina and requested to replace Kwamhulshwa and Kriel offices. Meetings had been held between the Department of Labour and Department of Public Works, and the decisions in regard to responsibilities for lease enforcement, monthly tracking, budget and obtaining exemption from statutes to use investment funding to acquire accommodation were outlined.

Members asked for lists of vacant buildings, details of landlords, rental and damages, which the Department promised to send to the Committee in due course. Members were particularly concerned to know whether rental was still being paid for buildings that were not occupied, and what the leases said about maintenance. They commented that the budget of R1 million was far too low. They were concerned that private landlords were charging exorbitant rentals to the State. Members commented that staff morale was low as a result of the poor working conditions, and this hindered proper performance by these staff. They questioned the dire situation at the Nyanga offices, asked who was responsible for checking access, sanitation and the general state of the offices, asked for comparisons of rentals paid, what had happened to staff when offices had been closed, and how service delivery had been affected. They asked if compliance inspectors were sent around, asked if there were service level agreements between the two departments, since Department of Labour was essentially shifting the blame on to the Department of Public Works, and asked what criteria were taken into account when deciding where offices should be opened. 

Meeting report

Mitchells Plain and Nyanga Community Labour Centres: Department of Labour responses to Committee recommendations
Ms Tumelo Malindzisa,Director: Fleet and Auxiliary Services, Department of Labour, took the Committee through the presentation. In her presentation she touched on the structure of office accommodation, the numbers of offices per provinces, the procurement process, the challenges and interventions by the Department of Labour (DOL or the Department) and the Department of Public Works (DPW), strategic interventions by the DOL and DPW and other infrastructural interventions, client departments' proposals and capital projects registered with the DPW.

She indicated that the Department of Labour had a total of 317 offices, and the accommodation was divided between 113 offices which were state owned and 204 which were leased. Procurement of office accommodation was done through the National Department of Public Works.

Three of the offices whose challenges were the subject of comment by the Committee were in the Kwazulu Natal province - the Ulundi, Prospecton and Park Rynie offices. The Ulundi office faced maintenance, location, size and parking challenges. However, alternative accommodation had been identified in the city centre. The Department had also approved funds to attend to the critical maintenance challenges in the current building. The Prospecton office had a challenge of maintenance but the DOL had approved funds to address the maintenance challenges and had also requested the DPW to speed the process of vesting, to enable the DOL to do the planned maintenance to the building. The Park Rynie office also had maintenance issues and the DOL also approved funds for that province to address the maintenance challenges. A meeting was scheduled for 26 August 2015 with the Head of Department in the provincial DPW to speed up the procurement process of Ulundi Labour Centres and vesting of Prospecton.

In the Eastern Cape there were offices at Mthatha, Lusikisiki and Mount Ayliff.  The Mthatha offices faced size, maintenance and location challenges. The DOL applied for alternative accommodation, the DPW tested the market and only one bid was received and it was now in the process of obtaining deviation to consider the only bid received. The Lusikisiki and Mt Ayliff offices faced the same challenges of the condition of the buildings and size. The DOL applied for alternative accommodation, and the process of acquiring the alternative accommodation was with the DPW.

In Gauteng, the Sebokeng office had a challenge relating to the procurement of accommodation since its closure in 2012. The DOL applied for office accommodation. The DPW had tested the market but no bids were received and the DPW was now going to re-advertise the bid. The Johannesburg Labour Centre had its office closed due to non-compliance with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations. The staff were redistributed to other offices and consultants were appointed to deal with the OHS non-compliance claims. Subsequently there was a fire in the building, and two fire fighters lost their lives. The DOL was in the process of requesting alternative accommodation from the DPW. 

In Rustenburg (North West) the challenge faced was a particularly small waiting area in the offices. The DOL and DPW were erecting shelters to be used as a waiting area to protect members of the public from unfavourable weather conditions. The DOL confirmed funding to the DPW for this project and sketch plans were received from the consultant. The main challenge of this office formed part of the discussions with the Deputy Director General: Regional Coordination from the national DPW.

There were three offices in the Mpumalanga provinces. The Carolina office had faced procurement challenges between 2013 to date, but the DPW had now procured the office, refurbishment funds were approved and the office was due for occupation in September 2015. The Kwamhlushwa and Kriel offices were closed and the DOL requested procurement of office accommodation.

The Department of Labour had held a high level meeting with the DDG: Regional Coordination in the DPW, at which the Department of Labour representatives included the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer, and Chief Directors of Provincial Operations (CDPOs) of the Eastern Cape Free State, Limpopo and North West provinces.

The following decisions were taken:
- The DPW Regional offices are to enforce the terms of the lease with the landlords to ensure the maintenance of offices and compliance to OHS
- High level meetings are to be held monthly to track the progress of the DPW regional offices
- The DOL had set aside money to maintain state owned office accommodation, with R1 million already being approved for the KZN,EC and Mpumalanga provinces
- The Department of Labour was in the process of obtaining exemption from the Government Immovable Asset Management Act (GIAMA) in order to procure office accommodation with funding from the investment portfolios of the Unemployment Insurance Fund and Compensation Fund

The Department had approved funds for the construction of offices for 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years. Labour Centres were to be constructed in Vredenburg, Swellendam, Bronkhorstspruit, Carolina and Sabie.

Discussion
Mr M Bagraim (DA) said that the presentation did not provide a list of vacant buildings, the landlords, the damages incurred and rental amounts. He knew that the Johannesburg Labour Centre’s rental was above R400 000 per month, even though the building was vacant, and this amounted to wasteful expenditure. He also asked for details of the rental being paid for Mthatha, Lusikisiki and Mt Ayliff, which were not being used properly, and asked for the identity of the landlords. He commented that it  was unacceptable that the Carolina office had been closed since 2013 and asked what the current status was and whether rental was still being paid for an non-operational building. He commented that the figure of R1 million was far too little to have any impact on the maintenance on the state owned accommodation. He thought that the high level meetings were insignificant, as retrenchments were still rife. Lastly, he commented that many landlords “are ripping government off” with the exorbitant rental fees demanded. 

Mr Thobile Lamati, Director General, DOL, responded that no rental was paid for buildings that were not in proper use. He did not have a list of landlords with him, but said that he would make this available to the Committee shortly.

Ms L Mjobo (ANC) said that the staff could not perform to full capacity as their morale was low as a result of the status and dysfunctional buildings. The DOL had to find ways to look after the staff so that their morale could be increased to ensure that their work could be done properly and more efficiently.

Mr Lamati agreed with Ms Mjobo that the staff morale had been affected by the states of the dysfunctional buildings, but this would be changed and he was sure that the situation would improve when the buildings had received their planned maintenance.

Ms F Loliwe (ANC) referred to her visit to the Nyanga Labour Centre. The security staff had “offices similar to dog kennels” and this was unacceptable and definitely not conducive for security work. The Nyanga Labour Centre also had sanitation issues and was not accommodating to disabled and physically challenged people. She asked who was responsible for checking the state of the offices? She asked when the DOL would meet the strategic intervention requirements, and what the current real challenge was with those buildings.

Mr Teboho Thejane, Chief Director: Provincial Operations, DOL responded that the security staff no longer had such small offices. However, he did concede that it should not have taken so long for that change to be made. The sanitation issue noted was a result of the cleaning staff not fulfilling their required duties on the day the Committee came to visit the Nyanga Labour Centre. 

Mr Lamati added that the DOL had previously “hit a brick wall” with its engagements with the DPW but some headway was now being made. The real challenge with regard to the buildings was linked to the maintenance issues and the DPW not fulfilling its obligations with regard to procuring office accommodation.

Mr P Moteka (EFF) asked what the comparative cost was for rental of state-owned and privately-owned buildings.

Mr Moteka also wanted to know what happened to staff subsequent to the Carolina and Kwamhlushwa offices closing.

Mr Lamati responded that he did not have the figures of the rentals paid, for privately-leased and state owned buildings but it would be sent through to the Committee if it wished. The staff of the closed Carolina and Kwamhlushwa offices were dispersed to other offices, although some had been retrenched.

Ms S Van Schalkwyk (ANC) was concerned with the state of service delivery in the areas where the offices had been closed. She said that short-term interventions in those areas may help over a short period of time but over a long term period this would not help, as not sufficient output would take place. It was evident that the biggest challenges faced were those around maintenance. She asked if there were no clauses in the lease agreements covering responsibility for maintenance. She also asked if there were inspectors who inspected department premises to determine whether there was compliance with OHS requirements. 

Mr Lamati responded that there were clauses on maintenance but the issues were generally very complex and not resolved simply. There were inspectors who inspected departmental buildings, and it had been due to some of these inspections that some of the offices were closed, such as the Sebokeng and Johannesburg Labour Centres, which had not complied with the OHS requirements.

Mr M Plouamma (AGANG) was deeply worried about the state of the buildings and the fact that some had been closed. He asked when the offices were supposed to start functioning.

Mr Lamati responded that the offices would start functioning once scheduled maintenance had taken place and once the DPW had procured other buildings.

Ms T Tongwane(ANC) asked why some of the Labour Centres in other provinces were not mentioned.

Mr Lamati responded that the offices mentioned in this presentation were the ones that were in dire need of being addressed, as they were largely dysfunctional.

The Chairperson reiterated the question as to where the staff of the closed buildings had been moved. She also wanted to know what had informed the figure of R1 million. She asked how long Ms Malindzisa had been in her current position.

Ms Malindzisa responded that she had been in her position for an approximately a year but had been employed in another post in the DOL prior to that. She said that the R1 million figure was informed through a needs analysis but she agreed that the R1 million was far from being enough to address the situation. The plan was to deal firstly with those offices in dire need of improvement. Funds would then be sought subsequently for the other offices.

Ms van Schalkwyk asked whether the cleaning service at Nyanga that had allegedly been defective on that day was responsible for both inside and outside the premises.

Mr Thejane responded that a cleaning service was used for inside, and a gardening service was used for outside.

Mr Plouamma said that it was totally unacceptable that it would take a year for the management at Nyanga Labour Centre to fix matters that were obviously not in the required state.

Mr Moteka asked whether there was a service level agreement between DOL and DPW.

Mr Lamati responded that it was a complex issue for a department to be paying full rental when it was not getting a full service. It was for this reason that the DOL was, through the DPW, seeking to rent more state owned buildings to try to minimise and eradicate the problems.  

The Chairperson asked what a visiting point was and how the public would know to go there.

Mr Thejane responded that a visiting point was an identified location, such as a church or hall, that the public would be told had been designated as a meeting point, where their labour issues could be discussed. The public would be notified, by sending out notices and posting placards, as to where and when to converge at the visiting point. 

The Chairperson asked what factors were taken into account, when deciding whether there should or should not be an office.

Mr Lamati responded that factors included the location, the distance away from other centres and the numbers of people coming through the doors. An example of this was the Nyanga Centre. It had been previously located in the Airport Industrial area, but local residents of Nyanga and surrounding areas could not access it easily. It was therefore subsequently relocated to within Nyanga areas itself. He stressed that, notwithstanding the picture that had been painted regarding the state of the DOL, it as coping with the situation. He invited the Committee to attend the newly built Labour Centre in Soweto which was a state of the art facility.

The Chairperson concluded the meeting by saying that the Committee would make an unannounced visit to the Nyanga and Mitchells Plain Labour Centres, to determine if everything was in order as it was claimed to be.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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