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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE
10 October 2001
MILITARY TRADE UNIONS; RESERVE FORCE: BRIEFING
Documents Handed Out:
Briefing by the South African National Defence Union (SANDU)
Information Brief by the Reserve Force Council
Chairperson: Mr J.N. Mashimbye
Military Trade Unions were given an opportunity to address the Committee after the Defence Force had earlier been given an opportunity. The Trade Unions invited were SANDU, which is registered, recognised and admitted and SASFU which is newly registered but not yet fully admitted. They were able to air their grievances. In its briefing, the Reserve Force Council spoke about its constraints.
South African National Defence Union (SANDU)
Mr van Niekerk, the Secretary-General of SANDU, thanked the Committee for giving him a chance to voice his opinions. He said that there are serious problems in the Defence Force because of certain officials who fail to perform their duties which is frustrating for everybody. He would single out the names of the concerned and recommend the formation of a committee of inquiry.
He noted that he was glad that the Major-General van der Poel was present at this particular meeting as she is never accessible when they request to see her. He indicated that it took eight months of attempts to meet with the Minister of Defence, before a meeting could be held with him.
Mr van Niekerk stated that the Union's problems are not being addressed by the Military Bargaining Council (MBC) and yet the Union is blamed by the Defence Department for dragging its feet and making the Department appear inefficient. Members always come to the Union for MBC minutes because MBC takes months before distributing such information.
Issues such as equal treatment and promotion policies have still not been addressed. The Union is not in favour of strikes since that would not be in the public interest and this means that the only avenue remaining is the MBC which the Defence seems to be closing up. Many members of staff work for 72 hours overtime, are not promoted and there are no increments. These factors could result in labour unrest and the Minister's intervention is being sought to prevent such a situation.
The Defence Force has a duty to consult with the Union in structural adjustment issues which it does not do and consequently the Union is not informed at all. He noted that it had come to the Union's attention that there is going to be reduction of 10 000 members.
Additionally, Department of Defence is trying to approve a discriminatory non-statutory forces pension benefit policy. The proposal indicates that members who have worked for the minimum period of 20 years will get a 100% pension benefit, for a period of between 10 and 20 years it will be 80% while the ones following are to get 33% and the newly recruited at that time would get 0% benefit which number about 8000 people. The Union is of the view that there is no fairness in this approach. Sometimes members are promoted only to be told that it had been a mistake and this has financial implications.
Intervention of the Secretariat, Registrar of Trade Unions, the Major-General and the Minister of Defence is being sought. The presence of unions has not changed conditions from how they used to be before their formation due to many hindrances beyond the unions' control.
The Union knows of what happened in Phalaborwa and that the Minister promised to intervene but it still has not. Many members of the Union are intimidated by Defence members.
Mr Van Niekerk stated that there is a conflict between the Minister of Defence and the SANDF Chief. The Minister interferes with the office of the Chief and this conflict is not in the best interest of the Defence should it so continue. There are meetings in which the two prefer not to be together.
Relations Between SANDU and other Trade Unions
SANDU has no dealings with other Trade Unions. It does not have good relations with SASFU because of the actions of the Registrar of Trade Union's office.
It is a requirement that the Registrar of Trade Unions be independent and yet Mr Joe Rathebe, as a member of the Defence Force, cannot be said to be independent. SASFU has a list of less than 5000 members and this is below the legal requirement. 1060 of those members are part of SANDU while others are no longer in the Force but the Registrar still allowed SASFU to register. The question is how the Registrar could have allowed for that.
Additionally, SASFU's constitution provides that the union represents defence workers and other workers. The question arises as to which other workers apart from the members of the Defence can be represented by SASFU. SANDU would wish for other unions to exist but in a fair way. SASFU wrongly accuses SANDU of being racists and they are suing SASFU for defamation.
Mr Van Niekerk said that the morale of soldiers is low and needs to be uplifted. The Department's assistance is sought in this regard. He then challenged their employer to present any benefit and betterment of soldiers in the past eight months.
Successes of SANDU
The legal advisor of SANDU outlined some of the successes of the union as including the case of a person who had been left in a cell without a right to bail by the navy and that SANDU had intervened. They render assistance to their members in finance and insurance issues. Unfair promotion has stopped and the Union facilitates proper communication channels which are even better than the ones which their members have with their employer. They also hold workshops aimed at educating people about trade unions.
South African Security Forces Union (SASFU)
Mr N. Dube, the President of the Union, stated that the Constitution permits the freedom of expression and association and that the rights of soldiers accordingly have to be balanced in a democratic society.
The Legal and Political Environment within which Military Trade Unions Operate
The Military is structured in a hierarchical way and before 1994 this hierarchy was used to meet the objectives of apartheid. These objectives have still not been fully removed. This therefore means that there is a need to amend the Defence Force Act of 1957 and SASFU aims at promoting cultural uniformity.
Military Courts have been used to suppress and oppress members under the pretext of promoting cultural uniformity.
Relation Between SASFU and Other Trade Unions
SASFU would wish to be in a position to deal with other unions and as such they feel that the clause prohibiting association with other trade unions is unjust. Nonetheless, they adhere accordingly and have no link with them.
There have however been conflicts with SANDU. One of these conflicts is SANDU's unwillingness to address issues of cancellation concerning members wishing to join SASFU.
Problems Encountered in the Defence Force
The Defence Force continues to make decisions unilaterally and the staffing policy is unjust and unequitable. Training and development are not easily accessible to soldiers while in cases where that is granted, difficult standards imposed to frustrate the members. There is insufficient training and it is based on racism.
Integration which was aimed at unifying non-statutory forces and statutory forces is now becoming problematic. SASFU is denied access in Military Courts to represent their members in such courts.
Successes of SASFU
Although this is a newly formed trade union, it can still point out some successes. It has members in all the arms of service within the SANDF. It has challenged the constitutionality of Military Courts at the Constitutional Court.
Mr Smit (NNP) asked if SANDU had ever attempted approaching the office of the Ombudsperson with their concerns.
Mr Van Niekerk replied that they had approached the office but that there had not been much assistance. This is because the Ombudsperson is unable to put his foot down when it comes to the Department and not much can be achieved "with a begging attitude".
Mr Smit asked if SANDU has a list of names of people eligible for the pension funds. Mr Mabete followed by asking whether the names of those who are to get 0% benefit are known.
The response was that SANDU has been asking for that list for the past five months without success even though they believe they have a right to the list. Nonetheless they have an indication as to who is on the list. The Union then pleaded with the Committee to assist.
Mr Ntuli asked how the pension issue is creating a problem.
In response he was told that for 8000 people not to be eligible for the pension benefit is a recipe for problems because of the unfairness of this.
Differences of the Military Trade Unions to other Trade Unions
Mr Smit asked about the powers which the MTUs do not have but which are inherent in all other trade unions.
The legal advisor for SANDU outlined the differences:
- Military Trade Unions do not have the right to represent individual members in disciplinary proceedings and to lodge agreements.
- Closed shop agreements are not allowed and this creates a 'free ride' problem because of those who have not joined the unions and yet benefit when better conditions are negotiated by the union.
Mr Ntuli asked how the unions not addressing the Commission has been a disadvantage.
The response from SANDU was that there were issues which the Union would have wished to be discussed but that this could not happen as some soldiers were denied access to the Commission.
Cancellation of Members from SANDU
Mr Mabete sought clarification from SANDU concerning the allegation by SASFU that they were not willing to discuss cancellation issues with them.
There was no response to this question.
Allegations Concerning Some Officials Dealing With SANDU
Ms Modise asked about the alleged tension between the Minister of Defence and the SANDF Chief which Mr Van Niekerk had referred to. She asked if the conflict interferes with operations in any way as this would then make it a Committee issue.
Mr Van Niekerk replied that the members are informed of the tension and "if they know there must be such a tension". The Union communicates with the Chief of Defence while the Secretary for Defence executes policies. He said that currently many of the Chief's decisions are being overruled.
Ms Modise suggested that this conflict allegation be disregarded as Mr Van Niekerk referred to what members have alleged as opposed to producing proof himself which he might have in this regard. Mr Ngculu agreed with Ms Modise, saying that report by Mr Van Niekerk contains strong allegations and that he should accordingly withdraw his statements.
Mr Van Niekerk replied that there is nothing to hide and that perhaps a survey should be carried out among the members.
Mr Ndlovu asked if Mr Van Niekerk had proof regarding the allegations he makes.
Mr Van Niekerk asked what further proof was needed since members have informed him of the tension. Was he being asked to call the members concerned?
Ms Modise said that the aim is to establish how assistance can be afforded in the matter but if Mr Van Niekerk takes exception when requested to furnish proof, it becomes difficult to deal with the matter.
Conflict Between SANDU and the Ministry
Mr Mabete asked SANDU what has brought about the tension between the Union and the Ministry. This question was not answered.
Registrar of Trade Unions
Ms Modise asked if SANDU had ever approached the Registrar regarding the allegations about him.
However at this stage the Chair indicated that the time remaining was quite limited and the questions that had not been answered would have to be dealt with at some other time. He asked SASFU to add a few words within the time remaining.
Mr Dube complained that SANDU has used this platform to make allegations against SASFU and that there have been several instances in which SANDU had taken action against SASFU.
He was of the view that labour issues are being treated as criminal acts. Negotiations with the Defence Force should be fair as this is the only available platform available for the unions.
Ms Ntsopi followed up saying that SASFU had been given the opportunity to meet the Setai Commission and they had made a written submission to the Commission. She had therefore hoped that the Commission would respond in the same way but that had not happened. Thereafter there had been no further invitations from the Commission.
The Chair thanked the two trade unions for appearing and also thanked the high level delegation from SANDF. In his concluding comments, he said that the SANDF is not responsible to MTUs but to Parliament, a sound and healthy labour environment has to exist and unions should ensure that military culture is not corrupted.
Concerning the allegation of tension between the Minister of Defence and the SANDF Chief, the Chair said that he had allowed the allegation on purpose. He believed that when people come to address Parliament, they should know the importance of saying the right and essential things and that it is crucial also to play the ball and not the man.
He noted that the Minister of Defence had withdrawn from the MBC because he feels that there are two letters written by the Union which need to be withdrawn. The Department of Defence is going to respond to these allegations and the Union has to be present. Thereafter there will be a meeting to discuss the impact of unions on the military. He pointed out that the ultimate aim is that the outcome be a positive one.
Reserve Force Council (RFC)
Dr Job gave a brief background stating that the RFC was originally established in September, 1992 as a Citizen Force National Council and that it has since gained recognition as the mouthpiece of the Reserves. He explained that the Defence Bill makes provision for the establishment of RFC as a Statutory Body. The Council represents the Reserve Force so as to promote and maintain it as an integral part of the Defence Force and it will be consulted on any legislative or administrative measures affecting the Reserve Force. The Council has no powers of command (Article 46 of the Defence Bill). Among many other aims, the Council further helps secure broad-based community and private sector support for the Reserve Force and the voluntary service system.
Structure of the Council
The Council is structured in the following way:
● National Board.
It comprises of an Executive, Regional Chairpersons, members invited by the Executive to represent various role players, Secretary for Defence, Services, Armscor, CMVO, MK and Apla Veterans.
● Regiments and Units
These are represented by their Commanding Officer or his nominee within the relevant Regional Board.
These include serving and past serving members of the Reserve Force among others.
● Regional Boards
This is established in every Province and the some of the members include the Commanding Officers of all Regiments and Units stationed in the Region or their nominees.
Activities of the Council
These include making presentations to Council of Defence, Chief of SANDF, Portfolio Committee on Defence and the Joint Standing Committee among others.
The Council has been involved in issues concerning the rationalisation of the Reserve Force, Budgeting for Reserve Force, Project Shield at National and Regional level to mention but a few.
The Importance of the Reserve Forces and What They Are
The Reserve Forces are part-time military forces who render military support when so required in support of the national defence effort.
These Forces play an important role including:
● Building up a state of national preparedness in the eventuality of conflict.
● Providing support to the SAPS in crime prevention and maintenance of law and order.
● Disaster relief through utilisation of the skilled personnel including doctors and pilots.
● Involvement in peace missions.
Challenges Facing the Force
- The morale of the Force is low due to factors such as budgetary constraints and poor personnel administration.
- The Conventional Reserve has been disused and underfunded for a long time so that the ensuing damage will be very expensive to rectify.
- The leadership of the Reserve Force is aging and this leaves a gap for middle management. This has to be addressed.
- There is a need for transformation and some of the hindrances to this are lack of funds.
- There is also inadequate resourcing resulting from the fact that the Force is not progressing adequately with transformation
The following recommendations are proposed:
● The maintenance of Reserve Forces be consistent with National Defence Policy and the National Consensus on Defence.
● An independent budget for the Reserve Forces be created and managed.
● A joint implementation plan be formulated and implemented.
The Chair then thanked the Council and adjourned the meeting due to time constraints.
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