South African Weather Service Bill: briefing


20 February 2001
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Taking Parliament to People, and People to Parliament


20 February 2001

Documents handed out:
Comment on Bill by The Airlines Association of South Africa (AASA)

The Committee heard comments by NEHAWU, the Public Service Association (PSA) and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) on problems in the Bill identified by the Portfolio Committee in September of 2000. After the debate the Committee resolved to pass the legislation in this session.

The Chair, Ms. Gwen Mahlangu (ANC) began the meeting by updating all present to the history of the Committee's deliberations on this Bill. In September of 2000 the Committee met and decided that the DEAT should work out certain human resource and transformation issues before the Bill came back to the Committee. She handed the floor over to Dr. Crispin Olver, the Director-General of the DEAT.

Dr. Olver began by saying that the process has come a long way since the Committee last discussed the Bill. The old Weather Bureau had left a legacy of inequality that had to be dealt with. In this spirit the Department held a workshop on transformation to include all interested stakeholders in discussion about the best way to bring forth the desired transformation.

Dr. Olver also announced that R400,000 had been invested in training the lowest-paid workers in the Bureau to solve one of the issues raised by MPs at the previous meeting. A mentorship program had also been established in the technical sectors and senior level management posts had recently been advertised. By the end of March 2001 the agentization process should be ready.

The DG commented that the department was working with the union and that DEAT had come up with formal targets that were to be reached in the process of transformation. The DEAT's target is to ensure that in the top three layers of management, 50% are black and one third are women. Combined with increased training at the lower levels, the DG believes that the process of transformation has become irreversible and that agentization would now be possible.

Dr. Olver also noted the strong support received by the aviation community and the commencement of a drive to open the marine sector (on the commercial side of the Weather Service). On the non-commercial side, programmes are being developed to help subsistence farmers and rural communities.

The Chair turned the floor to NEHAWU for their presentation.

NEHAWU was represented by Mr. Mark Sweet. NEHAWU commented that since the last Committee meeting there had been significant cooperation between DEAT and NEHAWU. A workshop was held in which a steering committee was set up and a procedure laid out for future development and cooperation. The National Job Summit, held at the end of January, laid a framework for transformation within the public service. Unfortunately, since the Summit, the cooperation that had been the norm before the workshop sharply fell away. The DEAT has repeatedly undermined the steering committee, which was set up jointly at the workshop in November. As a result of these problems, it is NEHAWU's opinion that the Weather Bureau is not yet ready to be agentized.

According to NEHAWU, the training program planned by the DEAT is inadequate and there is too much concentration on the University of Pretoria, which may not represent the diverse make-up that the government should be recruiting from. Another problem NEHAWU saw is that many trained individuals are leaving because of the work environment in the Bureau and because of racism encountered on the job. As well, within the upper level management of the Bureau, black people are concentrated in the human resources sector and underrepresented in the technical sector.

The Chair then turned the floor over to the Public Service Alliance (PSA) which represents public servants. The PSA is concerned that the agentization of the bureau will compromise the job security of their members currently employed in the Bureau. The PSA is not against transformation, but are against 'forced transformation'. The PSA supports the proposal of a 2 year secondment rather than an immediate transition to para-statal form. They also proposed a concrete amendment, noting the necessity of adding a section referring to a Section 197 transfer, which is currently not encompassed in the Bill. The PSA would like an amendment that would guarantee job security for those presently employed for the next five years.

Questions by Members
Adv. Swardt (ACDP) asked for clarity from the department on the framework agreed to at the Jobs Summit. Is the department contradicting an agreed upon framework?

Ms. Ramatsonai (ANC) asked the DG to explain how the cooperation between the Department and Labour got stuck.

Mr. Da Camara (DA) asked whether the curriculum of a diploma and a degree was vastly different.

Mrs. Mombayasi (ANC) asked why there was such a focus on the University of Pretoria.

Mr. Kalako (ANC) asked NEHAWU on the exact number of people who have resigned from the Bureau due to racism or work environment.

Ms. Nqodi (ANC) wanted more information on new black recruits.

Ms. Semple wanted to know the fee structure for new services and how it was established.

Ms. Chalmers (ANC) was curious as to the amount of influence the DEAT would have after agentization had taken place.

Mr. Mashamba from the Bureau began his responses by clarifying the difference between a Technikon diploma (T4) and a university meteorology degree (BSC). The Bureau has recently altered its remuneration policy and they will both now be remunerated equally. The focus on the University of Pretoria is due to the fact that they are the only University that offers a BSC in meteorology, although plans to expand this program to other universities is under way.

The present demographic composition of the South African Weather Bureau (SAWB) is the following:

160 black (49.4%) - 164 white (50.6%)
Unfortunately the majority of black employees are at the lower paid levels (levels 1-8) while whites still occupy the majority of upper level positions (levels 9-14).

235 Men (72.5%) - 89 Women (27.5%)
Level 9+ is 78% white, 22% black; 84% men, 16% women

According to Mr. Mashamba, 2 people have resigned due to work conditions. He also replied to the comment that black people are only found in HR management positions and noted that there are two new positions on the technical side that will be reserved for black individuals.

Mr. Schulze, the Director of the SAWB responded to the question about fee structures. The parties had been meeting on this for the past year and an agreement had been reached on a division of costs program between airlines and airports and the Weather Service. Currently airports in SA hold between 16 and 20 million Rand worth of SAWB equipment.

The DG, Dr. Olver took the floor and began to describe the policy context of the discussion. He stated that the DEAT has always focused on a parallel approach between the goals of transformation, commercialization and agentization. There is no way to meet the transformation objectives/targets within the structures of the public service. This would require retrenchments or deployments that are simply not possible. The targets of 50% black and 33% women are dependent upon the agentization of the SAWB.

The concern of NEHAWU, said Dr.Olver, is that the agentization process will be completed before the transformation, creating a situation where the Service is no longer under government influence and therefore would not have to follow the guidelines of transformation. The unions are looking for a sense that the changes will be irreversible. The DEAT believes that this is actually the case now, that there is no turning back from the transformation that is in the process of occurring.

In terms of NEHAWU's complaint about the jobs being advertised under the auspices of an agentized institution, this was necessary in order to attract qualified individuals for the position. The difference between a Deputy Director General and a CEO is significant in the type of person that will apply.

Dr. Olver stated that in his opinion NEHAWU is not negotiating in good faith, that they actually have no interest in agentization and are focusing on small problems to stall the process. There is no contradiction between the framework set at the Job Summit and the process that is being followed. The DEAT has overconsulted to the extent that this project is being essentially co-managed.

The Portfolio Committee, according to Dr. Olver should not be mediating between Labour and the Department. The Committee should be considering the policy put before them, the merits and downfalls. Petty excuses are being raised to block the process. The DEAT is adamant that the goals of agentization, transformation and commercialization will only be reached within a parallel process. The DEAT will deliver on its promises and targets if allowed to use the process it has developed.

The Chair then adjourned the meeting for twenty minutes so the Committee could decide on a way forward.

After the meeting recommenced the Chair indicated that the Committee wishes to pass this legislation in this session and will let parties iron out disagreements on their own time. Labour is welcome to bring forth written amendments, but from now on the focus of the Committee will be on the legislation, not the processes emanating from disagreements.

The committee then heard brief comments from the airline industry who were asked to submit formal amendments at the following meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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