Many losers in Samwu squab­bles

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, com­mu­ni­ties and mem­bers suf­fered as a re­sult of in­fight­ing

Business Day - - NATIONAL - Theto Mahlakoana mahlakoanat@busi­nesslive.co.za

The dis­in­te­gra­tion of the SA Mu­nic­i­pal Work­ers Union (Samwu) has wreaked havoc in the spa­ces where it or­gan­ises, leav­ing labour re­la­tions in sham­bles and its mem­bers vic­tims of the chaos.

For more than five years, the big­gest mu­nic­i­pal union in SA has been paralysed by in­fight­ing and a scram­ble for re­sources, as lead­ers launched law­suits and counter-suits against each other in a strug­gle for po­si­tions.

Labour re­la­tions reached an all-time low in some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­clud­ing the City of Jo­han­nes­burg and Nel­son Man­dela Bay, with em­ploy­ers with­hold­ing union sub­scrip­tions as they were un­able to dis­cern who the le­git­i­mate lead­ers were. Ser­vice de­liv­ery came to a stand­still in a num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, as mem­bers “aban­doned” their posts to en­gage in the in­trau­nion squab­bles.

“Work­ers would al­ways be in union meet­ings and fight­ing among them­selves. The en­ergy that was sup­posed to be ded­i­cated to their own com­mu­ni­ties was fo­cused on in­ter­nal squab­bles,” said Samwu pres­i­dent Pule Mo­lalenyane.

While the phe­nom­e­non is not lim­ited to Samwu, it was the di­rect im­pact on ser­vice de­liv­ery that saw em­ploy­ers get in­volved in the dis­putes.

The City of Jo­han­nes­burg, in par­tic­u­lar, was the epi­cen­tre of the chaos, re­sult­ing in it join­ing a Con­sti­tu­tional Court ap­peal ap­pli­ca­tion that sought to dis­tin­guish who the duly elected lead­ers of the Samwu were.

The apex court dis­missed the ap­pli­ca­tion con­test­ing the cur­rent lead­er­ship elected in 2015. Union lead­ers ad­mit­ted that while this would bring the mat­ter to “rest” , dam­age done over sev­eral years would take longer to re­pair. The mat­ter had pre­vi­ously sat be­fore the labour court, which con­cluded ear­lier in 2018 that the fac­tion of the most re­cently elected lead­ers was the law­ful recog­nised au­thor­ity in the union.

“What is clear from this case is that even when an em­ployer is im­pacted neg­a­tively in hav­ing to deal with dif­fer­ent fac­tions of the same trade union in its bar­gain­ing re­la­tion­ship, it will have no le­gal re­course through the mech­a­nisms of the LRA [Labour Re­la­tions Act] to sta­bilise the re­la­tion­ship and en­sure its em­ploy­ees re­ceive ef­fec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” wrote Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr labour ex­perts Mohsina Che­nia and Reece May af­ter the rul­ing.

Mo­lalenyane, who is part of the col­lec­tive ap­pointed at the 2015 congress and was vin­di­cated by the court, said that even mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that had in­vested R1.57bn in the col­lapsed VBS Mu­tual Bank would not have done so had the union’s mem­bers been fo­cused on their man­dates.

The cri­sis in the union had served “cor­rupt mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties”, he said.

About 13 Samwu em­ploy­ees and a for­mer na­tional leader were ar­rested by the Hawks in 2016 on sus­pi­cion of fraud and mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of funds af­ter mil­lions was re­ported miss­ing from union cof­fers.

In­ter­nally, it was hoped the re­sults of a foren­sic au­dit of the union’s fi­nances would bring an end to ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion and fraud among cur­rent and for­mer lead­ers.

The re­port by au­dit­ing firm EY will be re­leased at the union’s cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in De­cem­ber.

/Martin Rhodes

Union dis­unity: A Samwu lead­er­ship strug­gle ended up in court af­ter mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were thrown into chaos.

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