Reinstated registrar of labour guns for Ceppwawu
The cold war in the department of labour, between Minister Mildred Oliphant and recently reinstated labour registrar Johan Crouse, has resumed.
The minister’s office told City Press that “unfortunately, the courts have given an interpretation of a person [the registrar] who is not accountable to anyone”. This follows Crouse’s victory in the Labour Appeal Court last month, reversing Oliphant’s decision to remove him as registrar in 2015. The registrar administers the country’s unions and has the power to deregister one or place it under administration if it is not operating in line with its own constitution.
The battle revolves around the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu) and its R6 billion investment fund. In 2015, Crouse went to court to place Ceppwawu under administration, which led to his removal for alleged “gross insubordination” after Oliphant ordered him to desist.
Now that he is back in his old position, Crouse is looking into Ceppwawu again. “I have written to Ceppwawu to say I am pursuing the application to place them under administration on an expedited basis,” Crouse told City Press this week. In Crouse’s absence, the application to put the union under administration was withdrawn. He told City Press he did not know on what basis this happened, because Ceppwawu was “certainly not” in good standing. Last month Oliphant told the DA, in response to parliamentary questions, that the union had finally tabled its overdue financial statements and that these were accepted by the acting registrar of labour.
“That cannot be, because they did not comply with their constitutional requirements. The financials were not accepted,” said Crouse.
The minister’s spokesperson, Sithembele Tshwete, told City Press that it was “confusing and unreasonable to expect the minister to comment on these questions”. This is because the registrar is independent and Oliphant had no role in whatever decisions the acting registrar took in Crouse’s absence, he said.
Oliphant’s answers to the DA were simply a relaying of what the acting registrar had decided and “neither she nor Parliament has authority to question the decision of the registrar”.
Oliphant is “not in a position to provide reasons for the withdrawal of the administration application”. It seems to be “a difference of opinions and approach of the two registrars”, he noted.
Tshwete also said that Crouse was being unreasonable by declaring his temporary replacement’s actions as incorrect. “Then again, we are talking about an aggrieved person who has personalised and prioritised the Ceppwawu matter over and above other matters of a similar nature.”
Crouse justified his dogged pursuit of Ceppwawu due to the potential harm the union’s governance collapse could cause. “The union has a large membership and lots of money,” he said.
At last count it had 66 000 members and its investment company had assets of over R6 billion.
The union’s most recent financials, which Crouse says are noncompliant, apparently do not even mention the investment assets.
The union’s leadership is split into factions that have been engaged in several legal battles. On one side are general secretary Simon Mofokeng and union president Thamsanqa Mhlongo, and on the other are deputy general secretary Samuel Chief Seatlholo and treasurer Thulasizwe Sibande.
Crouse is set to retire late this year, so the Ceppwawu matter could drag on until he is gone.
The public audit report accompanying Ceppwawu’s latest financials was obviously noncompliant, said Crouse. The auditors raised an “emphasis of matter” that, in 2013, Ceppwawu incurred a loss of R9.2 million. Its accumulated loss amounted to R24.3 million.
There was an “unlawful act or omission committed by a person responsible for the management of Ceppwawu that constitutes a reportable irregularity”, the audit report said.
The union used agency fees paid by nonmembers in workplaces where a union is dominant for its own operational requirements – a breach of the Labour Relations Act. Agency fees are meant to be kept in a separate account and only used for advancing the interests of those workers.
The courts have given an interpretation of a person [the registrar] who is not accountable to anyone