South African National Defence Union grievances

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Defence and Military Veterans

18 March 2008
Chairperson: Mr F Bhengu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee became aware of a breakdown in communications between the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) and the Department of Defence (DOD) when the union threatened to organise a march to highlight the grievances of its members in February 2008.  The Committee subsequently found that two factions of SANDU were in existence.  Both factions claimed to represent members of the defence force and resorted to litigation in an attempt to settle the disputes between them.  The Department of Defence had difficulty in dealing with SANDU as it failed to maintain the membership threshold of 15000 members that was required.  There were five unions operating in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) but only 20% of the members of the SANDF belonged to a union.

Both factions of SANDU and the Department of Defence made representations to the Committee at an earlier closed meeting.  The Committee found that the issues raised were common to both factions of the union and that the grievances tabled were legitimate and required urgent attention.  It was found that structures for the handling of labour disputes and grievances, such as the Military Bargaining Council and the Military Arbitration Board, were not functional.  The grievance policy and procedures in place were out of date and did not keep up with changes in the command structure.  More than 4000 grievance cases were unresolved for periods of up to three years.

Although loathe to interfere in labour union matters, the Committee agreed to facilitate the finding of solutions to the issues and grievances raised by SANDU and the Department of Defence.  Members deplored the animosity displayed by both parties and urged delegates to refrain from character assassination and to demonstrate respect for each other.  Members were extremely concerned over the maintenance of discipline within the defence force.  Members commented on the wearing of uniforms by union representatives at the meeting and remarked on the importance of upholding the image of the defence force.

Throughout the meeting, the Chairperson repeated the objective of the meeting.  The purpose of the meeting was to find solutions rather than to debate the issues that were raised at the earlier closed meeting.  Proposals included the formation of a task team, led by the Chief of Human Resources of the DOD, with the objective to restore the functionality of the grievance structures.  The Committee suggested that the task team held its first meeting during the first week of April 2008 to set its terms of reference and to determine a schedule of meetings to address the issues.  The Committee requested that it was kept informed of progress.

The Committee held the officials from the DOD accountable for carrying out their responsibilities and recommended that members of the defence force were represented by a single union.  The importance to retain open lines of communication was emphasised and Members insisted that all members of the defence force was kept informed of their rights as well as the actions that were taken with regard to the handling of their grievances.

Meeting report

Meeting with Department of Defence and South African National Defence Union (SANDU)
The Chairperson questioned the number of delegates from SANDU attending the meeting.  He understood that only five representatives from SANDU would attend the meeting and the venue was too small to accommodate the additional members of the delegation.

Mr J Dubazana (Chief Negotiator, SANDU) explained that the additional delegates represented the SANDU leadership from the nine provinces.  He requested the Committee’s indulgence in allowing the delegates to attend the meeting as observers.

The Chairperson said that the request was not communicated to the Committee.  Mr Dubazana apologised and explained that attempts to contact the Committee secretary on 14 March 2008 were unsuccessful.

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) said that the uncomfortable conditions made it difficult for the meeting to proceed.  Permission for the additional delegates to attend the meeting should have been pre-arranged.

Mr R Shah (DA) said that the Committee recognised that members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had grievances and concerns and wished to assist with closing the gap between the union and the Department of Defence.  However, the Committee had issued an instruction in good faith and it should be adhered to.

Dr S Pheko (PAC) suggested that a concession was made if there was a compelling reason for the presence of the additional observers at the meeting.

The Chairperson explained that presentations were made by both parties at the previous meeting and the purpose of this meeting was to start finding solutions to the issues that were already on the table.  He ruled that the five delegates that were agreed on attended the meeting and that the additional delegates were excused.

Mr J Greeff (National Secretary, SANDU) said that there were no bad intentions and apologised for any offence to the Committee that may have been caused by the failure to communicate the presence of the regional representatives of SANDU at the meeting.

Dr E Schoemann (Chairperson, Joint Standing Committee on Defence) (ANC) expressed concern that the SANDU observers were in uniform.  The implication was that they were acting in an official capacity.  He asked whether the correct procedures were followed and if the wearing of uniforms was sanctioned by their commanding officers.

The Chairperson noted Dr Schoemann’s concerns but suggested that the matter was dealt with outside the meeting.

The additional observers from SANDU left the meeting.

Mr Ntuli felt that the incident should not have occurred and strongly objected to the manner in which Members were treated by the union.

The Chairperson noted that no malice was intended by SANDU.  The union accepted that a transgression of the Committee’s rules took place.  It had noted the Committee’s concerns and acceded to the request for the additional observers to excuse themselves from the Meeting.

The Chairperson summarised the events that led up to this open meeting.  An earlier meeting was held where the Committee heard representations from the DOD and both factions of SANDU.  During the meeting, it was pointed out that the Committee was dealing with members of SANDU and not with SANDU as an organisation.  Both factions of SANDU claimed to be the authentic union and presented the reasons for their claims.

The Chairperson was contacted by the media on 7 February 2008 and asked if he was aware of the action to be taken by SANDU to petition Parliament on grievances.  SANDU claimed to be the union that represented members of the armed forces.  The Chairperson responded in the negative and advised that although the Portfolio Committee had received a letter from SANDU to request a meeting, a date for the meeting was not yet agreed upon.  Later the same day, the Chairperson was contacted by the Chief Whip, who was informed that the Portfolio Committee was meeting with SANDU.

In the interim, the Department of Defence had instituted an interdict and the Minister had issued a press statement.  The proposed action by SANDU did not take place.  Before the Committee could convene to determine a date for the meeting, Mr Dabuzana contacted the Chairperson and confirmed that he had spoken to the chief Whip and understood that a meeting will be held between the Portfolio Committee and SANDU.  The chairperson advised that a meeting had not yet been agreed to and forwarded a copy of the Committee’s reply to the letter received from SANDU to Mr Dabuzana. Mr Dabuzana advised that the reply was addressed to the wrong person and should have been addressed to him.  Only then did the Committee realise that it was dealing with two factions of SANDU and proceeded to invite both groups to the meeting.

The DOD confirmed that there were a total of five unions, of which only SANDU and SANDFU met the 15000 membership threshold and were registered.  Subsequently, the membership base of SANDU was eroded to below the 15000 membership threshold but the DOD initially decided to retain contact with the union.  The DOD was aware of the grievances listed by SANDU as well as the grievances of individuals who were not members of a union.  Subsequently, the DOD had a problem with dealing with SANDU because it failed to reach the 15000 membership threshold and no longer qualified for registration.

The dispute between the two factions of SANDU was taken to court.  The Committee found that both factions of SANDU had a problem with the DOD’s attitude and that there was a breakdown in communication between the unions and the Department.  The same grievances were raised by both factions in the presentations made to the Committee and there was a concern that matters were not being addressed.

In its deliberations, the Committee considered all the issues that were raised in detail and considered how matters could be taken forward.  The question was whether the Committee should interfere in labour union affairs and whether it should prescribe to the union on what it should do.  The Committee had an oversight responsibility and was obliged to represent the interests of all individuals who came before it.  Although the Committee agreed to meet with SANDU, it was clear that it can only act in an advisory role, pass legislation and advise the Department on the implementation of legislation.

The Committee felt that the issues and grievances raised by both factions of SANDU were legitimate and real and had to be addressed as a matter of urgency.  It was decided that the Committee will focus its attention on this aspect.  The Committee felt that the process would take too long if the grievances were addressed only once the issue of the membership threshold was resolved.

The Chairperson said that it was crucial that the breakdown in communication between the unions and the Department was resolved.  The Committee wanted to know the reasons for the breakdown in communication.  The grievances were genuine and long-standing.  He was advised by the DOD that an internal audit of grievances was held.  The deadline for completion of the audit was the end of March 2008.  The Committee requested that it was informed of the results of the audit by no later than 6 May 2008.

The Committee wondered if an awareness campaign was planned to inform all members of the SANDF of the actions that were taken.

The Committee encouraged the two factions of SANDU to resolve their differences without resorting to court actions.  Although unable to participate in that process, the Committee was able to facilitate discussions with the Department, SANDU, all other unions and individuals.

The Chairperson urged all stakeholders to put aside their differences and to address the plight of the soldiers.  It was necessary for the issues on the table to be taken forward rather than concentrating on issues of attitude and anger.

The Chairperson explained that the role of the Portfolio Committee was to serve everybody. It was important that the correct lines of communication were followed and that verbal discussions over the telephone were reduced to writing for record purposes.  He requested that grievances were communicated to the Committee in the first instances and regretted that Members only became aware about the problems when a protest march was about to take place.  He said that the communication lines to the Committee were always open.

It was important that all parties worked together on finding lasting solutions to the problems.  The Chairperson appealed to SANDU to address their own internal issues and not to reflect negatively on members of the defence force.

The Chairperson noted the apologies from the delegation from the other faction of SANDU, who were unable to attend the meeting due to difficulties with flights.  It was felt that a further delay in addressing the issues would result if the meeting was postponed.  The Chairperson advised that any decisions taken during the meeting will be communicated to the other faction of SANDU.

Mr Shah agreed with the role of the Committee as outlined by the Chairperson.  He was perturbed by the allegation made at the previous meeting that the section faction of SANDU was a creation of the Department of Defence.  He said that the Committee was very concerned if the representation of members of the defence force was at all politically motivated.  The morale of the defence force was negatively affected and the effectiveness of the SANDF was compromised.  He wanted to know if the structures within the SANDF that were created to address grievances were functional or not.  He understood that the Minister had appointed the Military Arbitration Board but SANDU refused to allow its members to be appointed to the Board.  He asked what was being done by SANDU to achieve the required membership threshold that would allow it to participate in the Military Bargaining Council (MBC).  He requested that SANDU submit proof of membership numbers and audited statements to the Committee.

Mr Shah was extremely concerned by the violation of the rules and regulations governing the conduct of members of the armed forces.  He said that it was unacceptable that a soldier refused to obey an instruction from his commanding officer because he has a grievance over his salary.  He said that the Committee was informed that the union had distributed flyers asking members to prevent other persons from performing their duties and that there were instances where the military police had to intervene.  He was concerned that members of the SANDF were reneging on their duties.

Mr Shah said that although he appreciated that the union had problems, the DOD, SANDF and the union all had tasks and responsibilities as well.  He wanted to see one union that represented the interests of its members.

Mr J Phungula (ANC), speaking in Zulu and summarized by the Chairperson, made a special plea for unity, the maintenance of discipline and upholding the image of the armed forces.  Members of Parliament and the public placed its trust in the army to defend the country.  He urged the labour unions to approach the Committee for assistance in resolving disputes, rather than going to the press.  He reminded SANDU that it represented the interests of soldiers and suggested that the union refrained from assuming responsibilities that it was not accountable for.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) agreed with the remarks made about the discipline and image of the defence force.  He said that the effectiveness of the military in executing its constitutional mandate was a key issue.  He understood that the DOD was currently undertaking an internal audit on grievances and noted awareness within the Department of the grievance processes and procedures as well.  He said that all three the parties agreed that the Military Bargaining Council had to become effective as soon as possible.  He understood that the DOD was finalising its remuneration strategy. 

Dr Koornhof agreed that dealing with two factions of SANDU was a problem.  He recalled that the Committee approved the provision for the establishment of unions within the defence force when the Defence Act was submitted to Parliament.  He said the provision was made with good intentions and urged that the privilege was not jeopardised.  He suggested that SANDU did everything possible to achieve the membership threshold of 15000 as it was important that the union was represented on the MBC.

Dr Koornhof felt that it was crucial that discipline, morale and professionalism were upheld at all times.  He reported that the Committee met with the board of enquiry into the tragic incident at Lohatla and was impressed by the discipline, morale, positive spirit and professionalism displayed by the soldiers involved.  He referred to an undated letter on a SANDU letterhead and quoted its contents to the Committee.  He said that the content of the letter and many other pamphlets issued by SANDU were not professional.

Dr Koornhof explained that the Committee’s role was to ensure that the Constitution and legislation pertaining to the Military were implemented.  He said that if there were problems with the Defence Act, mechanisms were in place to address any weaknesses and loopholes by means of amendments to the Act.  The Committee was responsible for conducting oversight of the Secretary for Defence (as the Director-General of the DOD) and the SANDF and played its role on an ongoing basis.  He urged that the DOD, SANDU and the Committee act in concert to find solutions to the problems.

Ms P Daniels (ANC) pointed out that records of the complaints that were lodged must be in existence as there were grievance procedures and processes in place.  She said that control must be exercised over the number of complaints lodged in order to determine if there was an escalation of complaints.  She said that the union had a responsibility to educate its members on the processed and procedures and to ensure that the correct steps were taken before resorting to other means of industrial action.

Ms Daniels said that although the Government agreed to unionise a unique environment, union members must not forget that their primary role was to defend the citizens of the country.  She emphasized the importance of communication between the union and its members to ensure that procedures remained operational and that the effectiveness of the defence force was not put at risk.  Although the grievances raised were valid, the intention of the union to create instability within the SANDF would result in a loss of faith in the armed forces.

Ms Daniels said that the right to unionise came with the accountability to ensure that members understood their responsibility to defend the citizens of the country.  She pointed out that all members of the defence force joined voluntarily and was required to be disciplined and comply with commands issued to them.  She said that valid grievances must be addressed in an orderly and disciplined manner.

Dr Pheko said that the stability of the army was very important as it affected the image and stability of the country.  He said that few countries allowed its army to be unionised and he expected the union to understand the responsibility that such a privilege brings.  An attempt was made to identify the problems and it was a matter of urgency to find solutions.  It was important that lines of communications remained open.

Dr Schoemann said that the there must be absolute clarity on the role of the Committee in this matter.  He said that the Committee can only facilitate and be a conduit to open lines of communication.  The Committee cannot be a judge or arbiter of the merits or demerits of a problem put before it. However, the Committee can ensure that there was a mechanism in place for the proper handling of grievances and that it remained functional.  He expressed concern that the MBC appeared not to be functioning as envisaged by the Defence Act.  The Committee was perturbed that the Ombudsman’s Bill had been withdrawn but will continue to monitor the situation.  He concluded by saying that it was the duty of the Committee to ensure that the DOD and all the other stakeholders were talking to each other.

Mr M Moatshe (ANC) emphasised the importance of communication.  He wondered why the unions were splitting up into smaller groups.  He noted that overall membership of unions were limited to 20% of all members of the armed forces.  He asked if the remaining 80% were being kept informed and provided with information.

The Chairperson said that Members’ special pleas were made in earnest, with passion and with concern.  He hoped that the meeting would result in determining the way forward and that an immediate start was made to address the issues that had been raised.  Members raised questions in order to obtain clarity and key proposals were made with the intention to assist with resolving the conflict between the parties.  The meeting was intended to open the lines of communication and to come up with deadlines for resolving the issues.

Mr N Fihla (ANC) said that an efficiently-run Department had unqualified audit reports.  This was not the case with the DOD and a reflection on the members of the Department.  He suggested that the challenges were classified into major or minor and into short, medium or long-term issues.

The Chairperson suggested that a task team representing the various unions and the DOD was formed to identify the level of urgency and the different types of concerns and to find ways of addressing those concerns.

Mr Shah asked if the suggested task team fell outside the existing structures already in place.  He wanted to now if such a team would be a DOD or a Portfolio Committee initiative and whether the Committee would be involved in overseeing the activities of the task team.

Mr Ntuli said that the intention was not for the Committee to take over issues that should be dealt with by the bargaining process.  He cited the example of a salary increase of 7% that was granted to members of the SANDF across the board.  Any percentage increase above 7% was subject to bargaining and referral to the MBC.  He felt that issues such as salary deductions for sports could be dealt with by clearly communicating the purpose of the deduction with employees.  Certain members of the SANDF may qualify for a RDP house, which may help to address the housing issue.

Mr Ntuli said that the Secretary for Defence was responsible for dealing with labour disputes and must be held accountable for carrying out his duties.  He objected to the wearing of uniforms at occasions where the union was represented.  He said that the Chief of the Defence Force was responsible for ensuring that uniforms were correctly worn and that the image of the country was not negatively portrayed by the appearance of its soldiers. He emphasised the importance of effective communication and requested that timeframes were set for reporting back to the Committee on the progress made in resolving the grievances.

The Chairperson again appealed for the inclusion of key proposals in the presentations made to the Committee.  He said that the Committee expected a report by the end of May 2008 on the progress made on the agreements reached during the meeting.

Mr M Mosima (President, SANDU), Mr L Fredericks (Vice-President, SANDU), Mr J Greeff (National Secretary, SANDU), Mr J Dabuzana (Chief Negotiator, SANDU) and Mr C de Boer (National Organiser, SANDU) were introduced.

Mr Mosima quoted from the preamble to the Constitution.  He said that Members of the Committee were expected to uphold the Constitution and to treat people with respect.  He said that not all matters can be resolved in court and SANDU re-affirmed the status of the Committee with regard to resolving the issues between the parties.  He said that the other delegates from SANDU would be dealing with matters and that he would only become personally involved if there was a problem.

Mr Mosima gave the assurance that SANDU would never collaborate with persons or organisations that undermined the Government.  He said that SANDU was an apolitical organisation led by civilians and that there was no question of supporting any military rule.  SANDU considered all to be equal under the law and will not support anyone breaking the law.

Mr Mosima welcomed the Committee’s offer to facilitate the resolution of the differences between SANDU and the DOD.  He said that SANDU represented professional soldiers that expected to be looked after, respected and listened to when they had grievances.  He agreed that members of the defence force must be disciplined but discipline cannot be maintained if the defence force was divided.  He agreed that SANDU and the DOD must work together.

Mr Mosima undertook to deal with the matter about the wearing of uniforms within the organisation and to correct any wrong-doing that may have occurred.  He said that the morale of the majority of soldiers was very low.  He related that he had also suffered periods of low morale before he was deployed to Burundi.

Mr Mosima said that one of the problems within the DOD was the abuse of power.  He agreed that laws must be obeyed but said that certain individuals ran the Department like a family property, a farm or a village.  He requested the Committee’s assistance for both SANDU and the DOD.

Mr Mosima applauded the appointment of Lt-Gen Derrick Mngwebi to the position of Chief of Human Resources of the DOD.  He said that more people of such calibre were needed.  He reported that since his appointment, Lt-Gen Mngwebi had met with SANDU on several occasions and the union was convinced that his involvement will assist in achieving positive results.

Mr Mosima thanked General Ngwenya and the Members of the Committee for their presence at the meeting.  SANDU had prepared copies of documents for the perusal of the Members.

Dr Koornhof called a point of order and appealed to the Chairperson to make a ruling.  He said that as the meeting was an open one, the statements made were recorded and reported on.  He was very uncomfortable with any unsubstantiated statements about low morale, abuse of power and about laws not being obeyed.  He said that such statements cannot go unchallenged and must be substantiated.

The Chairperson recalled that standing rules were agreed to at the previous meeting.  Participants had to adhere to the rules and refrain from making no blanket statements that were not substantiated by facts and making remarks that reflected negatively on others.  Such incidents were expunged from the records.  He reminded delegates that the Portfolio Committee was an extension of Parliament and called Mr Mosima to order.

Mr Mosima said that both sides of the story had to be heard.  His statements were based on cases and documents substantiating his remarks were brought to the meeting for the Committee’s perusal.  He agreed that all the parties had to work together but said that SANDU was frustrated by people with their own agendas.  He considered it his duty to bring this to the Committee’s attention.

The Chairperson explained that the purpose of the first closed meeting was to deal with those issues.  Representatives were allowed to vent and air their grievances.  The Committee was fully aware of the contents of the documents Mr Mosima referred to.  He said that the purpose of this second meeting was to find solutions to the problems.  A suggestion was made by the Members that the challenges were identified and prioritised and that key time frames were set for their resolution.  He suggested that route was taken as nothing would be gained by the pointing of fingers.  He suggested that SANDU’s National Secretary proceeded with the presentation.

Mr Greeff said that the delegation had prepared a presentation in line with the concerns raised by the Members of the Committee.  The presentation contained proposals for resolving the impasse.  He said that valid questions were raised and needed to be addressed.  He requested that statements that appeared to be criticism of the DOD were not interpreted as the pointing of fingers.

Mr Greeff reported that SANDU held its national congress in January 2008.  All the regions were represented at the congress and the regional councils had appointed representatives.  Resolutions were taken at the congress.  Minutes of the congress were included in the information pack for the Committee.

Mr Greeff explained that seven legal challenges were instituted by the other faction of SANDU and the DOD against the executive of this faction of SANDU during the previous two years.  All the challenges were unsuccessful.  The frustrations of the union that led to the action taken on 7 February 2008 were well known.  Details were included in the information pack as well.  The intention was not to fuel conflict but to illustrate that there were two sides to the story.  He said that it was demoralizing for members to see their union fighting with the employer in court.

Mr Greeff explained that the Constitutional Court had made a ruling to convene the Military Arbitration Board.  Consultation with the union and the implementation of the board were prescribed.  He said that to date, no consultation had taken place and the MAB had not been implemented by the Minister.

Mr Greeff said that SANDU’s salary proposals were included in the information pack.  The union had provided written input to the DOD on the implementation of an effective grievance system but, to date had not received any response.  He said that the DOD and the union both served the same interests and SANDU wanted to co-operate with the DOD to ensure that members of the SANDF received the best possible deal.

Mr Greeff explained that the grievance system in place dated to 1995.  It operated within the old structure of the defence force that was no longer relevant.  There was no policy in place and informal processes were being followed.  He reported that SANDU was aware of over 4000 outstanding grievances, some of which were older than three years.

SANDU disagreed with the belief that it failed the 15000 membership threshold.  A recent arbitration award proved that membership numbers were in excess of the threshold requirement.  One month after the award, the number dropped by 3000.  Requests for an explanation and the results of the reconciliations required by the Regulations were not responded to.  The DOD was aware of this problem.

The constitution of the MBC was signed by both SANDU and the DOD.  This constitution contained a clause that provided for the resolution of threshold disputes by the MBC.  SANDU agreed that it was very important that the MBC was functional and gave its commitment to Lt-Gen Mngwebi in this regard.

Mr Greeff said that the flyers referred to dated from three to four years previously.  This was explained in a meeting held with Lt-Gen Mngwebi.  He gave the assurance that no flyers that encouraged union members to disobey the law were issued under his supervision during the 18 months of his tenure.  SANDU agreed that the maintenance of military discipline was important and that this must be communicated to its members.  He confirmed that SANDU would not call for the right to strike.  He said that a low morale in the defence force would also affect discipline.  However, morale would increase if the plan to resolve the grievances was implemented.

Mr Greeff supported open communication between the three parties and welcomed the open door policy of the Committee.  SANDU was pleased to hear that the DOD was working on the remuneration policy but queried why none of the unions were involved in the process.  He conceded that Members raised a valid point regarding communication with non-union members.  A functional MBC would address situations where the unions and employees should have been consulted when setting certain policies.

In conclusion, Mr Greeff said that he was responsible for instructing delegates to wear their uniforms to the meeting.  There was no intention to cheapen the uniform and he apologised if the wrong decision was taken.

The Chairperson remarked that all the issues had been heard before but a second presentation was accommodated.  He wanted to hear the plans for taking the process forward and what was being done by the Department and the union to address the issues and resolve the key grievances.  He reiterated that the DOD and SANDU would be resolving the issues and that the Committee merely played a facilitating role.

Mr Dubazana said that the information pack addressed the serious allegations made during the earlier meeting and was not a second presentation. He understood that the Committee could not prescribe but could only advise and prevail on the DOD as the employer.  He said that the relationship between the DOD and SANDU collapsed because of the membership threshold issue.

Mr Dubazana said that the matter of salaries was very urgent.  Even after the November 2007 increases, salaries were too low.  SANDU had submitted a salary proposal to the DOD and believed it to be a starting point in addressing this issue.  He believed that the MBC was resumed as soon as possible.  Meetings were held with Lt-Gen Mgwebi but both parties needed to be on board.

The Chairperson again appealed for concrete suggestions on addressing and resolving the particular issues on the table.  He said that other unions and non-unionised members of the defence force were also affected and solutions had to be found to benefit all employees.  The key was to ensure that the necessary structures and procedures were created and that such mechanisms remained functional.

Mr Dubazana suggested that a coordinating committee was established and requested the assistance from the Portfolio Committee.

Mr Shah was pleased that the threshold issue was being addressed as it prevented SANDU and DOD from entering into negotiations.  He cautioned that both factions of SANDU as well as all the other unions had to be accommodated in any structure that was created.  He disagreed that the Committee should be involved in any structure that dealt with SANDF labour relations.  The Committee was responsible for ensuring that the DOD carried out its responsibilities.  He warned that the Committee cannot be used by SANDU to claim any superiority.

The Chairperson was uncomfortable with the number of unions in the defence force.  He cautioned against the risk of a union being hijacked and funded by a nefarious source.  The security of the State was paramount.  The matter of unity amongst the unions was very important and a united labour force would be more credible and effective in dealing with the DOD.

Ms Daniels felt that the leadership of the union did not have a clear understanding of its mandate and responsibilities.  The DOD had also made mistakes.  The Committee had made itself available to facilitate a resolution of the conflict.  An offer from SANDU to be available to start working with the Department was expected.  She suggested that more women were involved in the SANDU leadership.

Dr Koornhof felt that no progress was being made.  Members had made a number of suggestions but so far the union had failed to submit concrete proposals.  He suggested that the Department was given an opportunity to respond.

Mr Mosima said that SANDU was available at any time and requested that the DOD set the date for the meeting.  He said that the issues of gender representation and ability were under consideration.

The Chairperson expressed appreciation for SANDU’s willingness to meet with the DOD.

Gen Ngwenya (Chief of the SANDF, DOD) agreed that maintaining discipline within the defence force was non-negotiable.  He said that opening the lines of communication had to commence immediately.  He emphasised the need for written communication.  He agreed that it was necessary to find solutions to the genuine problems without further delay.  He said that it was important to uphold the image of the SANDF and he was confident that the matter of when and where it was appropriate to wear uniforms could be resolved.  He acknowledged the tributes paid to Lt-Gen Mgwebi by SANDU.  As Chief of Human Resources, Lt-Gen Mgwebi was the responsible officer and represented the DOD in this matter.  He requested that objections to the behaviour of soldiers and officers were specific and that the making of general comments was avoided.  He said that the DOD will do its best to resolve the issues.

Mr J Masilela (Secretary for Defence, DOD) said that the maintenance of a disciplined defence force was the primary responsibility of the DOD.  He agreed with the Committee’s ruling that the meeting should focus on finding solutions rather than repeating the same issues.  He agreed that the Committee played a facilitating role in this matter and held the DOD accountable in terms of its oversight responsibilities.  He said that the Committee had a responsibility to the ordinary members of the defence force as well and a quasi-political entity, whose conduct bordered on anarchy and mutiny, had to be held accountable for its actions.

Mr Masilela said that the DOD had made written submissions to the Committee after the 2005 enquiry led my Minister Kader Asmal.  The DOD leadership considered the welfare and wellbeing of the members of the defence force to be of the utmost importance.  He admitted that there were many and complex challenges, for example obtaining adequate funding for facilities.  He said that the Department had made progress in meeting its commitments and had taken many initiatives in an attempt to address the plight of soldiers.  The remuneration policy was under review and a higher than average 7.7% salary increase was given in recognition of the fact that members of the defence force was underpaid.  Unlike many other countries, the SANDF paid soldiers an allowance for taking part in external operations.

Mr Masilela said that the DOD supported the existence of a review board.  The Department respected the ruling of the Constitutional Court to the effect that Regulations, mechanisms and procedures for the handling of grievances needed to be established.  The Regulations were considered to be a starting point.  The MBC was part of the structures required to handle grievances, allowing the DOD to concentrate on its key mandate to defend the country.

Mr Masilela pointed out that Lt-Gen Mgwebi was instructed by the DOD to engage with the unions.  The Department considered the two factions of SANDU to be a serious concern.  He said that the apparent disagreements, contradictions and the legal challenges between the two factions resulted in a dilemma for the DOD and it was not clear about who it should be dealing with.  He suggested that an independent body with integrity verified the facts and determined the criteria to be applied.

Mr Masilela said that Sections 52, 54 and 57 of the Regulations specified the requirements for recognition of a union.  The DOD awaited the submission of the required records.  He said that the DOD had to abide by the rules, respect the Regulations and obey the law.  It was a pre-requisite that the required documentation was submitted.

Mr Masilela said that comments made by the union bordered on mutiny.  He was interrupted by Mr Dabuzana, who called a point of order and protested against the accusation that SANDU was a quasi-political body that promoted mutiny and anarchy.

Mr Masilela explained that he was referring to the flyers distributed by SANDU and a cell phone text message purporting to be from Mr De Boer’s cell phone, which were insulting to officials of the DOD.

Mr Dabuzana vehemently denied that the message originated from Mr De Boer’s cell phone.

The Chairperson said that he will respond to the point of order only.  Whether true or not, flyers and cell phone messages were sent out and contributed to the present state of affairs.

Mr Ntuli read the message that was supposedly sent from Mr De Boer’s cell phone.

The Chairperson requested that the cell phone number was traced and that the matter was dealt with outside the meeting.  On the point of order, he ruled that emotional responses were toned down and that delegates avoided making remarks that reflected negatively on others.  He reminded delegates that the purpose of the meeting was to find a way forward.

Mr Masilela said that two factions of a union cannot be represented in the MBC.  Mechanisms to verify adherence to the membership threshold can be put in place.  He advised that Lt-Gen Mgwebi was available to engage with the unions in order to implement a framework.  The DOD planned to monitor the progress made by the MBC and the Military Arbitration Board.  In conclusion, he said that the Department intended to embark on an education campaign to inform members of the defence force of their rights and obligations with regard to trade unions.

The Chairperson noted the proposals from the DOD to open the lines of communication and to make Lt-Gen Mgwebi available to engage with the unions.  He suggested that Lt-Gen Mgwebi was allocated the task to co-ordinate the attempts to resolve the issues and remained available to all the stakeholders, in addition to his existing duties.  He proposed that the Committee considered the mechanisms put in place for holding meetings with all the parties and that all agreed on the process that would be followed to address the issues.

The Chairperson said that the Committee required that each stage of the process was recorded, that deadlines were set and that critical issues were clearly described, prioritised and categorised.  He proposed that a timeframe was set for the task team and that its terms of reference were agreed.  The Committee intended to monitor progress but will not interfere.  The Committee required that proceedings were properly communicated to all members of the defence force, not just to the unions.  He was not sure of the extent to which soldiers understood their rights.

The Chairperson expressed concern over the number of unions in the defence force.  He requested that the issue of emotions and attitudes was addressed and said that the grievances will not be addressed if emotions and negative attitudes were tolerated.

Mr Sayedali-Shah supported the proposals made by the Chairperson.  He suggested that both parties refrained from indulging in rhetoric and treated each other with respect.  He made it clear that the Committee was responsible for ensuring that laws were implemented.  He said that the SANDF’s rules of conduct had to be followed.  He cautioned that any actions taken by Lt-Gen Mgwebi needed to be within existing legislation.  He said that the DOD was expected to fulfill its legal obligations and gave the assurance that the Committee will oversee the Department’s compliance.

Mr Fihla appealed that the genuine grievances affecting all soldiers were addressed, regardless of any obstacles resulting from the membership threshold issue.

The Chairperson explained that the MBC was a key structure and must be in place to address grievances.  He suggested that the matter was included in the task team’s terms of reference and addressed by Lt-Gen Mgwebi as a matter of urgency.

Dr Shoemann suggested that the Committee’s proposals included a requirement that the trade unions resolved their differences and acted in a cohesive manner.  He said that the presence of SANDU at the meeting did not imply that it was granted legitimacy by the Committee.  He regretted that the other faction of SANDU, the other trade unions in the SANDF and the non-unionised members of the defence force were not represented at the meeting.  He said that the Committee would have granted the same platform to all the other organisations.  He urged the trade unions to work together and to set personal interests aside.

Dr Koornhof supported Dr Schoemann’s proposal. He said that when the Committee approved the Defence Act, it was with the intention that there would be one union to represent the interests of the soldiers.  Provision was made for the structures to support such a union.  He understood that the task team that was now mooted would be an ad-hoc team with a limited lifespan but wanted to know if there was an existing structure within the DOD that could be utilised to perform the same function.

Dr Koornhof suggested that the outstanding grievance cases were attended to first, that measures were taken to ensure that the grievance procedures were in place and that members of the defence force were made aware of the grievance procedures. 

Dr Koornhof remarked on the similarity of the issues raised by both the DOD and SANDU.  He said that both parties appeared to be on the same page.  The matter of attitude and how delegates conducted themselves was important.

Mr Sayedali-Shah understood that disputes concerning membership of a union had to be dealt with by the MBC.  He suggested that existing structures were strengthened and made operational before ad-hoc fixes were introduced.

Mr Ntuli reminded the DOD of its constituted responsibilities and pointed out that the unions did not represent the SANDF.  He said that procedures were devised and implemented by the DOD within the framework of its mandate.  He reminded delegates that the rights of all parties needed to be respected.

The Chairperson explained that he proposed an ad-hoc task team led by Lt-Gen Mgwebi because the existing structures, e.g. the MBC, were not functional.  He was aware of Lt-Gen Mgwebi’s responsibility as the Chief of Human Resources within the DOD but pointed out that he also enjoyed the acceptance of SANDU.

Mr Mosima confirmed SANDU’s support for the appointment of Lt-Gen Mgwebi to his post.  He said that the union fully supported the proposals made.  He said that the interaction with the Committee and the DOD assisted the union.

The Chairperson stressed the importance of continued communication.  He made it clear that a single union for the defence force was desirable and suggested that mechanisms were put in place to address the issue of amalgamating the splinter groups.

Mr Phungula, speaking in Zulu with the Chairperson summarising his remarks, reiterated the role of the defence force and the importance for a single union to represent its members.

The Chairperson hoped that the first meeting between the DOD and the union would be held during the first week of April 2008.  He requested that the Committee was provided with a schedule of the meetings that was expected to take place.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would not engage on the matter of the cell phone messages and expected that the issue would be resolved amongst the parties concerned.  He urged delegates to rise above petty issues and refrained from indulging in character assassination.  He deplored the personal attacks on persons who were placed in positions of responsibility.  He expected the leadership of the parties to take responsibility and repeated that the maintenance of discipline within the military was of paramount importance and that a similar level of discipline was expected from members of the union

The Chairperson noted the SANDF’s involvement in youth programmes and the initiative to launch a recruiting drive amongst the youth.  He asked whether the union had similar programmes in place.  Although it was necessary to address the immediate issues, he encouraged the union to think beyond the present and engage with the DOD on development projects to safeguard the interests of soldiers in the longer term.

In conclusion, Mr Ntuli thanked the delegates from the DOD and SANDU for their attendance.  On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee, Dr Schoemann re-affirmed Members’ expectations of progress.  The Chairperson repeated the necessity to continue communication amongst all the parties concerned.

Mr Dabuzana thanked the Committee for the opportunity to SANDU to present its case.  General Ngwenya confirmed the DOD’s commitment to resolve the issues and thanked the Committee for its assistance.

The meeting was adjourned.


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