ATC170608: Report of the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings on the Hearing of the Africa Skills College Petition, Dated 08 June 2017
Report of the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings on the Hearing of the Africa Skills College Petition, Dated 08 June 2017
The Africa Skills College petition (petition), dated 23 March 2015, was referred to the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings (Committee), for consideration, by the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on 12 June 2015. The petition is submitted by Ms Keamogetse Vos and Ms Lerato Lobelo on behalf of the learners at the Africa Skills Further Education and Training (FET) College (College).
For contextual purposes, it is important to note that the College is situated in Thembalethu, George, Western Cape Province and is registered as a private college that offers N1-N3 Engineering programmes. In addition to offering these Engineering programmes, the College also offers other Skills Education Training Authorities (SETA) accredited skills development programmes. The College is legally registered under the name of Africa Skills Training Solutions (Pty) Ltd and it trades under the name of Africa Skills College – Private Technical and Vocational Education and Training College. Furthermore, as part of training and development, the College provides training to learners or apprentices by placing them with supportive host employers to ensure the best practical work experience.
In the petition the learners level the following specific complaints against the College and its administration:
- The Principal of the College was dismissed from his previous employment after he was found guilty of fraud and corruption;
- The Principal has recruited learners from Kuruman, in the Northern Cape Province, and enrolled them at the College under false pretences. During their enrolment the said learners were promised a stipend of R1500 per month but only received a stipend of between R700 to R800 per month, in contravention of the terms and conditions of their academic contracts and enrolment. And this has resulted in the majority of learners returning to Kuruman without completing their studies;
- The College failed to pay some learners their full stipends in March 2015;
- 4 The College management is constituted of only white people and the wife of the Principal is a Director at the College; and
- 5 Learners live in fear of being intimidated and have been interdicted from exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest.
The petition further indicates that prior to approaching the NCOP, the petitioners met with the management of the College, on 9 March 2015. Following this meeting, the College management paid the outstanding stipends to a few learners while the stipends for other learners remained unpaid.
Also of importance, the petition states that the petitioners have done the following, in an attempt to resolve the issues raised in the petition, but to little or no avail;
1.6 Written to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), on 11 March 2015, and the DHET responded to say it had requested the College to furnish it with additional documents and this had not been done, by the College, at the time that the petition was submitted to the NCOP.
1.7 Written to both the Premiers of the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, on 16 March 2015, in relation to the issues raised in the petition, and have not as yet received a response from either of the Premiers.
1.8 Contacted the Skills Education and Training Authority (SETA) and the SETA informed them it was unable to locate the correct structure or person to deal with the concerns raised in the petition.
1.9 Staged protest action on 17 March 2015 and presented a memorandum to the College outlining a list of their demands however nothing fruitful came out of this protest action.
1.10 Laid charges, with the South African Police Services (SAPS), against the College and its management however SAPS has been of little or no assistance.
1.11 Approached community ward councillors, on 18 March 2015, and requested them to intervene however when the ward councillors attempted to engage the College on the issues raised in the petition, the College management refused to listen to the community ward councilors and sent them away.
As regards the relief sought, the petition requests the intervention of the NCOP in addressing and resolving the above mentioned complaints against the College and its management.
2. HEARING ON THE PETITION
The Committee held a hearing on the petition on 12 October 2016. The purpose of the hearing was to allow the petitioner and the relevant stakeholders to make first-hand oral submissions on the petition.
2.1 Committee Members and Officials
The following Committee Members were present at the hearing on the petition:
2.1.1 Hon S G Thobejane, ANC, Limpopo (Chairperson of the Committee);
2.1.2 Hon M J Mohapi, ANC, Free State;
2.1.3 Hon J M Mthethwa, ANC, Kwa-Zulu Natal;
2.1.4 Hon G M Manopole, ANC, Northern Cape;
2.1.5 Hon M T Mhlanga, NC, Mpumalanga
2.1.6 Hon D L Ximbi, ANC, Western Cape;
2.1.7 Hon T Wana, ANC, Eastern Cape
2.1.8 Hon M Chetty, DA, KZN; and
2.1.9 Hon B Engelbrecht, DA, Gauteng.
The Committee Members, present at the hearing, were supported by the following Parliamentary officials:
2.1.10 Mr N Mkhize, Committee Secretary;
2.1.11 Dr M Gondwe, the Committee Content Advisor;
2.1.12 Adv T Sterris, Committee Researcher;
2.1.13 Ms C Maledu, the Committee Assistant, and
2.1.14 Ms N Fakier, Executive Secretary.
The hearing on the petition was attended by the following relevant stakeholders:
2.2.1 Petitioners, Mr L Langa and Mr L Ncamile;
2.2.2 Representatives of Africa Skills College (College), Ms R Meyer and Ms E Harmse
2.2.3 Representatives of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Mr M Lumka, Mr S Fredericks, Mr M Buthelezi, Ms K Dazela and Ms N Rasmeni;
2.2.4 Representatives of the Skills, Education and Training Authority (SETA), Ms J Irish-Qhobosheane; and
2.2.5 Representatives of the South African Police Services (SAPS), Major-General K Senthumule, Major-General P Mbotho and Lieutenant -General N Masina.
2.3 Submissions by the Petitioners
Submissions on behalf of the petitioners were led by Mr L Langa (Mr Langa) and Mr L Ncamile (Mr Ncamile).
In his submissions, Mr L Langa submitted that he was familiar with the issues raised in the petition after a group of learners had approached him and complained about the unfair and exploitative practices taking place at the College.
Further in his submissions, Mr Langa informed the Committee that from his experience and knowledge the following unfair and exploitative practices had taken place and continue to take place at the College:
- Flawed disciplinary processes. Learners are disciplined before they can attend disciplinary hearings. For instances a learner was called into a disciplinary hearing by the College management and before the learner could attend the hearing, the learner was suspended.
- Falsifying of learner records. Learner records are in certain circumstances falsified by the College management. Take for example, a learner will be on record as working at place A, during job placements, however upon being quizzed about working at place A, the learner will indicate he or she has never been to place A.
- Forging of learner signatures. In some instances learner signatures are forged by the College management. A member of the College management, actually admitted to forging learner signatures at a meeting of learners when he stated that if the College urgently requires the signature of a particular learner and the College is unable to get hold of that learner, it has no choice but to forge the signature of that learner.
- High dropout rate of black learners. The College has a high dropout rate of black learners. The College starts out with a large number of black learners at the beginning of each enrolment year however as much as 90 percent of these learners do not end up being trade tested or qualifying. Yet their white counterparts end up being trade tested and ultimately qualifying.
- Unfair treatment of black learners in job placements. Black learners are treated unfairly during job placements. The job placement of black learners with host employers is often accompanied by an instruction that the learner cannot be paid because they are paid a monthly stipend. On the other hand, the placement of white learners is not accompanied by a similar instruction and white learners are permitted to receive some form of payment during their job placements. Furthermore, during job placements, black learners are made to carry out work or duties which have no bearing or relation to their respective field of study or trade. For example of a learner was made to sweep floors and make tea, on a daily basis, during his placement with a host employer despite being an electrical engineering learner.
- The exploitation of learners by placement companies. Some placement companies, in the George area, exploit learners during work placements by requiring them to carry out duties which have no bearing or relation to their respective field of study or trade. Other companies even go so far as to get rid of their permanent staff so as to make use of the services offered by learners from the College in order to save on their wage bill.
- Payments for placements. The College flouts regulations by receiving payment from individual companies for placing learners at those companies (and there is evidence to this effect).
- Continued funding for expelled learners. The funding attached to expelled learners continues to be provided to the College after learners have been expelled. This issue has been raised with the SETAS and various funders and nothing has done about it and neither has any explanation been given.
In his extensive submissions, Mr Ncamile, also related how he was subjected to an unfair disciplinary hearing by the College management after he objected to the conditions of his placement. He further informed the Committee that he is one of the learners that has been affected by some of the unfair and exploitative practices that Mr Langa alluded to in his submissions. In this respect, Mr Ncamile submitted that after he complained about his work placement, to the College, he was instructed to do his practical work whilst he should have been finalising his theoretical work. He then went back to his host employer to continue with his practical work and spent a week doing something that is not related to his field of study. Upon returning to the College, he realised his learner card has been blocked and when he enquired why his learner card was blocked he was informed by the College management that it was not prepared to engage with him.
Mr Ncamile further informed the Committee, that it was only after the police were called in to intervene, that he was allowed to enter the College premises. And while he was relating his side of the story to the police he was asked by the College to sign a document pertaining to his disciplinary hearing. He refused to sign the hearing document as it alleged he had been absent from his host employer.
Further in his submissions, Mr Ncamile, stated that the majority of black learners dropout as a result of the racism, victimisation and corruption taking place at the College and as they feel the quality of education they are receiving at the College is not in up to standard. He also submitted that when learners raise their grievances and concerns with the College, instead of being assisted, learners are threatened with termination of their contracts.
Also in his submissions, Mr Ncamile highlighted and maintained that the following unfair practices were taking place at the College:
2.3.9 A large number of black learners, at the College fail and there are no plans in place to reduce or lower this failure rate ;
2.3.10 As part of its recruitment process the College requires learners to a contract with only the Services SETA and not with the National Skills Fund (NSF) as well;
2.3.11 Local learners are not accommodated or given meals. As such, only learners from outside the Province benefit from the accommodation and meals offered by the College yet all learners have more or less the same funders;
2.3.12 The College makes unauthorised and unwarranted deductions against learner stipends;
2.3.13 In December 2014, learners were required to sign for unpaid leave because host employers were closing for the Christmas holidays;
2.3.14 The evaluation of learners is questionable as quarterly progress reports for the same year are always inconsistent;
2.3.15 The forging of learner signatures as explained by Mr Langa in his submissions;
2.3.16 The entire College staff complement is made up of white staff members and some of them are related (i.e. either married to one another or are blood relations); and
2.3.17 During work placements white learners, in contrast to their black counterparts, are placed with suitable host employers and carry out duties or work related to their specific trade and field of study.
In concluding his submissions, Mr Ncamile indicated that, at some stage the College had informed him that his funding had been terminated in June 2016, as he had not been in class for 9 months due to the learner protests. However the NSF later informed him that his funding had only ended in October 2016.
2.4 Submissions by Africa Skills College
Submissions on behalf of Africa Skills College (College) were led by Ms E Harmse (Ms Harmse). Ms Harmse introduced herself as the Managing Director of the College. She further explained that the College is a skills development provider for a number of Skills Education Training Authorities (SETAs).
Further in her submissions Ms Harmse, admitted that there was learner dissatisfaction in March 2015 and this led learners to stage protest action. However during and after the protests the College implemented a number of processes and actions, namely, a learner enquiry process; strengthening of learner support services system; creation of Learner Representative Committee; regularising communication with learners; updating of learner induction and splitting up of learners with induction per funder/SETA to eliminate confusion.
In her submissions to the Committee Ms Harmse also responded to the following specific complaints made against the College:
As the regards the complaints of corruption, Ms Harmse informed the Committee that in her view, the complaints were prompted by a misunderstanding of how the College operates. She also explained that as a private service provider, the College provides artisan training for a number of SETAs, namely, the Services SETA; Chemical Industries and Education Training Authority (CHIETA); Construction, Education and Training (CETA); Fibre Processing and Manufacturing SETA (FP & M SETA); Safety and Security Education Training Authority (SASSETA) and the National Skills Fund (NSF). And the different sponsors have different payment structures and deliverables.
Ms Harmse also informed the Committee that the stipend amounts vary between the different SETAs from R1500 to 2500 per month. She further submitted that because the SETAs do not always pay learners on time, learners are under the mistaken impression that the College takes their monies. Further according to Ms Harmse, because the College is a private Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College its’ funding is different from that of public TVET colleges and as a consequence, the College receives its funding when it delivers evidence as per the agreement with funders. She added that the College is required as per the agreement with funders to deliver according to deliverables and as such it will receive the money according to deliverables and not up front or for a full year ahead like public TVETs. She also added that the College receives the money from funders in tranches, therefore SETAs or funders have the right to immediately terminate the funding for the College.
Ms Harmse further informed the Committee that stipends are paid directly to learners by the College and the College is required to submit evidence, in the form of a payslip and proof of payment to the SETA, before the SETA can release the next tranche of monies.
In concluding her submissions, in this regard, Ms Harmse informed the Committee that each SETA or funder monitors or audits the College on its contract deliverables at regular intervals throughout the funding period. She also informed the Committee that, in general, SETAs have in place a strict administrative system for the monitoring and auditing of contracts that service providers need to report on or comply with and this system includes the submission of the following: attendance registers for training centre and host employers; proof of payment for learner stipends; learner progress reports; reports on phase tests; facilitation, assessment and mentoring reports; workplace vetting and monitoring; and learner logbooks.
With respect to the allegation of ill treatment, Ms Harmse submitted that learners expressed their dissatisfaction with the late payment of the SASSETA stipends, on 6 March 2015, when they locked the training centre’s gate and prevented all learners and staff members from entering the premises. Subsequently, on 9 March 2015, the learners staged a protest outside the training centre and also barred other learners and staff members from entering the College premises, burned tyres, and blocked off the street. The police were called to intervene and upon their arrival they requested the aggrieved learners and the management to follow them to the Thembalethu Police Station (police station). At the police station the learners initially refused to speak to the management however later in the day, 15 learner representatives and a community member met with management. During this meeting learners indicated they had grievances in relation to the termination of learner agreements, racism and unpaid stipends and the management agreed to prioritise these concerns and address them.
Also according to Ms Harmse, the management requested learners to return to class so that they can prepare for exams but the learners indicated that they will only do so once their grievances have been resolved.
In her submissions Ms Harmse further informed the Committee that during the protest action staged by the learners, the College arranged a bus to transport learners back to their host employers as artisan training is its main training stream, however, the protesting learners blocked the road and refused to allow the bus to pick up the learners. On 17 March 2015, the learners handed a petition to the College during a protest march and also chose learners to represent them in meetings with the management. She added that a total of 7 meetings were held with learners in this regard, yet notwithstanding these meetings several learners remained aggrieved and volatile. There were even incidents of intimidation and of fellow learners and staff members being threatened, at which point the College was left with no other option but to seek legal advice and obtain an interim court order aimed at protecting other learners that wanted to attend class as well as to protect staff members. The court order was awarded to the College on 21 August 2015.
In concluding her submissions in this respect, Ms Harmse submitted that the following solutions emanated from the meetings held during the protest action:
- All learners whose contracts were allegedly unfairly terminated were contacted in order to establish if the learners felt aggrieved and wished to be re-instated as apprentices. Furthermore, all terminated learners evidence was audited by an independent consultant to verify if the correct procedures and processes were followed in terms of SETA contracts and labour laws;
- Meetings were arranged with all the relevant SETAs or funders to address learners on their funding and to clarify all related queries;
- One on one sessions were held with staff members to discuss the alleged racism and discrimination taking place at the College and the management concluded that all staff members subscribe to the vision and mission of Human Capital Development and changing people’s lives;
- Extra classes were agreed on to prepare the learners for national exams;
- Learners were encouraged to put their individual grievances in writing in order for the College to handle each learners’ grievance with individual attention and care;
- Learners refused to sign attendance registers, as this would mean that they acknowledge that all their grievances had been resolved, as such it was agreed that for the period of the protest learners need only tick the register as proof of attendance;
- Established a communication unit, at the commencement of the protest action to communicate and contact all stakeholders (such as sponsors, clients and employers) including learners daily regarding the situation and progress made; and
- Requested all stakeholders to visit the College and conduct an audit to see if it had done something wrong and to speak to the learners in an effort to assist in the resolution of the grievances. And for the period March 2015 to August 2015, numerous visits were conducted by various sponsors including the DHET, Auditor General, Services SETA, NSF and CHIETA.
As regards the complaints of racism at the College, Ms Harmse informed the Committee that the College has existed for 10 years and as a training provider it is required to comply with numerous legal requirements. She further informed the Committee that there had been no formal complaint lodged in relation to the allegation as such it was difficult for the College to handle or resolve the matter.
2.5 Submissions by the Department of Higher Education and Training
The submissions by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) were led by Mr M Lumka (Mr Lumka) and supplemented by Ms J Irish-Qhobosheane (Ms Irish- Qhobosheane), Mr S Fredericks (Mr Fredericks) and Mr M Buthelezi (Mr Buthelezi).
In his submissions to the Committee, Mr Lumka introduced himself the Chief Director responsible for SETAs within the DHET. Mr Lumka informed the Committee that they were mandated by the DHET, in July 2015, to conduct an oversight visit to the College and address the issues raised in the petition. And on 27 August 2015, they visited the College however as most of the learners were out on job placements with host employers, they were only able to engage with a handful of learners on that day. Mr Lumka further submitted that the learners that they interacted with, on that day, confirmed that there had been issues around the payment of stipends however the issues were now resolved. He further submitted that given that they interacted with only a handful of learners they were unable to substantively engage a considerable number of learners on the complaints of racism and corruption levelled against the College. He added that the DHET had found the College wanting in the area of employment equity as its total staff compliment is all white.
Ms Irish - Qobosheane made submissions in response to the issues relating to SASSETA. In her submissions Ms Irish - Qobosheane stated that SASSETA was placed under administration at the end of February 2015 and this contributed towards the huge delay in the payment of stipends to learners across the country. She further submitted that the issue was now resolved and SASSETA is paying stipends to learners, across the country, on time.
Also in her submissions Ms Irish - Qobosheane submitted that SASSETA meets with learners on a regular basis and in the course of monitoring programmes at various institutions of higher learning. She cited as an example a meeting SASSETA held on Monday 10 October 2016 with 25 learners from the College. In concluding her submissions Ms Irish - Qobosheane submitted that SASSETA has strict agreements with all its service providers, including the College. And in terms of these agreements, where a learner fails to attend classes for no valid reason, SASSETA will deduct monies from the learner’s stipend in respect of the classes the learner failed to attend. She added that service providers are also not paid where learners drop out of the institution and are required to prove that stipends have been paid to individual learners. Further in concluding her submissions, Ms Irish - Qobosheane indicated that SASSETA encourages the formation of Learner Representative Councils as they assist it to pick up on issues and to deal with learners and this is important as SASSETA concludes agreements with both service providers and learners.
Mr Fredericks made submissions in response to the issues of the National Student Fund (NSF). In his brief submissions, Mr Fredericks informed the Committee that any implementing agent of the NSF is required to open a dedicated back account and this allows the DHET to freeze the account, where the need arises. He further stated that the NSF also requires monthly and quarterly reports from implementing agents and these reports are verified by the DHET during site visits. And during such site visits the NSF scrutinises inter alia invoices log books of learners; proof of payment of learner stipends; and a register of calculations for purposes of ensuring compliance by various institutions of higher learning. Mr Fredericks further stated that the amount agreed to with the College in relation to the stipend to be allocated to each learner is R1500. In concluding his submissions, Mr Fredericks submitted the NSF has stringent quality management processes in place and it is satisfied with compliance of the College in relation to these processes.
Dr Buthelezi made submissions in relation to registration of private colleges. In his brief submissions Dr Buthelezi submitted that before a college can become a service provider for SETAs and it is has to register with and be accredited by the DHET. He further submitted that during the DHET’s site visit to the College in August 2015, the College admitted that its top management is all white and the DHET demanded that the College address this anomaly. The College later presented the DHET with its Employment Equity (EE) Plan however the DHET is yet to visit the College and ensure it is making progress with its EE plan.
- Submissions by the South African Police Services
The submissions by the South African Police Services were led by Lieutenant –General N Masina (Lieutenant General Masina). In her brief submissions to the Committee Lieutenant General Masina explained that although a total of 6 cases were opened at the Thembalethu Police Station (Thembalethu) in relation to some of the issues raised in the petition, none of the cases relate to fraud or corruption on the part of the College or its management. Further in her submissions, Lieutenant General Masina informed the Committee that all the cases were opened in 2015. In concluding her submissions, Lieutenant General Masina requested the Committee to permit Major General P Mbotho (Major General Mbotho) to provide some detailed background into the nature and outcomes of the 6 cases opened at Thembalethu.
In his submissions, Major General Mbotho, informed the Committee that the following cases were opened in relation to some of the issues raised in the petition:
- Thembalethu Case No:- 222/03/2015 : The case related to a complaint of intimidation and the complainant in the case, Ms Lobelo, complained of being intimidated by the College management. The case was investigated and presented to the Senior Public Prosecutor (SPP) for a decision on 18 June 2015 and the SPP declined to prosecute the case.
- Thembalethu Case No:- 77/03/2015: The case related to a complaint of reckless and negligent driving. The complainant and victim in the case, Mr Japhta, complained that he was injured by a vehicle driven by Mr Hough, a lecturer at the College. During the investigation of the case, Mr Hough explained that his vehicle collided with a learner or learners, who were part of a group of learners who attacked him and the collision occurred whilst he was trying to flee from the learners. The case was presented to the SPP after the investigation and on 21 August 2015, the SPP declined to prosecute the case.
- Thembalethu Case No:- 79/03/2015: The case related to a complaint of malicious damage to property and the facts of the case are similar to those of Thembalethu Case No:-77/03/2015 above. However, in this instance, the complainant is Mr Hough and his complaint is levelled against Mr Japhta. In the case Mr Hough alleged that his vehicle was damaged by Mr Japhta. After the complaint was investigated and presented to the SPP, the SPP declined to prosecute the case on 21 August 2015.
- Thembalethu Case No:- 171/03/2015: The case related to the illegal march that the learners of the College embarked on, on 13 March 2015. The complainant in the case is the State as per Warrant Officer Mhlana alleging that the learners marched without authorisation on the stated date. The case was investigated and presented to the SPP for a decision and on 21 August 2015, the SPP declined to prosecute the case.
- Thembalethu Case No:- 242/03/2015: The complainant, in the case, is the College management, as per Mr Harmse, who complained that the learners had defied a court order by protesting at the College. Following the investigation of the case it was forwarded to the SPP and the SPP declined to prosecute the case on 11 January 2016.
- Thembalethu Case No:- 78/03/2015: The complainant in the case is the State as per Warrant Officer, Van Rooyen, alleging that the on 6 March 2015, learners of the College marched without authorisation. The case was investigated and presented to the SPP for a decision and on 21 August 2015, the SPP declined to prosecute. (See the attached presentation marked as Annexure A hereto).
3. OBSERVATIONS AND FINDINGS
The Committee made the following observations and findings in relation to hearing on the petition:
3.1 The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) is aware of the complaints that learners have levelled against the College and on 27 August 2015 the DHET conducted a site visit to the College. However, during the site visit it was unable to conclusively establish the veracity of the complaints of racism and corruption levelled against the College as it only managed to interact with only a handful of learners.
3.2 The petitioners have also brought the issues raised in the petition to the attention of the Premiers of the Northern Cape and the Western Cape as well as the relevant SETAs, however, they have received little or no assistance from these bodies.
3. 3 The Safety and Security Education Training Authority was placed under administration at the end of February 2015 and this contributed towards the huge delay in the payment of stipends to learners across the country.
3.4 The total staff complement of the College is all white and it was requested to rectify this anomaly during a site visit by the DHET in August 2015.
3.5 The National Skills Fund imposes stringent quality management processes on all its implementing agents which include the submission of monthly and quarterly reports and site visits by the NSF.
After deliberating on the submissions made during the hearings on the petition, the Committee recommends the following:
4.1 The Committee notes that the complaints contained in the petition fall within the competence and purview of the National Department of Higher Education.
4.2 The Committee, therefore, recommends that the petitioners refer the complaints, contained in the petition, to the National Department of Higher Education in order for the complaints to be thoroughly investigated and resolved.
Report to be tabled for consideration.
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