MoD, SANDU rhetoric hots up

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South Africa’s military trade unions are on notice to prove their membership or to be deregistered. The SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) Chief of Human Resources, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi this morning briefed the media on service conditions and an “alleged threat of strike action by SANDF members.”

He says neither the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) nor the SA Security Forces Union (SASFU) meets the 15 000 member thresh-hold. Mgwebi added an independent registrar has been appointed to verify this and has requested further information on the unions’ financial and administrative state. The unions had 60 days from May 3 to respond to the request. “If they do not respond, the registrar can de-register them. This means that they would not be recognised as unions.”

The SA Press Association reports this means neither union may approach the military bargaining council over grievances. This meant the unions in effect had no power to raise concerns, he said. The military is excluded from the Labour Relations Act of 1999 and may not legally strike. The latest threat to do so reportedly arises from dissatisfaction in the ranks about backpay and “disparities” between daily allowances which will be paid to soldiers and police officers during the FIFA soccer World Cup. According to SANDU, soldiers have received a “raw” deal.

The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans (MoD&MV) over the weekend put out two aggressive media statements accusing SANDU of spreading lies and of misspending union dues. SANDU chief negotiator Jeff Dubazana in return called minister Lindiwe Sisulu a “drama queen” and her spokesman, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, a “clown” for making statements that would make the soldiers “even more angry”.

SANDU and Sisulu have been sparring since her appointment last May, the relationship reaching a low in August last year when a few thousand SANDU members went on a violent rampage cum mutiny at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria, demanding higher pay and better service conditions.

Mabaya yesterday told the Independent Group the “unions don’t tell the truth about what is going on. …You can end up having a protest march based on lies. Our concern is that you have a demoralised soldier who has been told (by the union) that they are getting their back-pay today which is not the case. These soldiers end up not participating thoroughly in military operations. Spreading lies compromises our security,” said Mabaya.

Mabaya said the unions were ignoring “the necessary channel of the military bargaining council where they should go to negotiate labour matters.” He accused unions of ignoring Sisulu’s explanation that the department did not have money to pay the salary arrears in a lump sum and would do so in increments. SANDU general secretary Pikkie Greef said Sisulu had promised, in her budget speech, that soldiers would get their back-pay from this month. Most soldiers are paid on the 15th of the month.

Greef said it was Sisulu, not the unions, who was ignoring a 2007 Constitutional Court ruling compelling the Department of Defence to negotiate salaries, allowances and other labour matters with unions before taking decisions, the Independent titles reported overnight. “We wrote a letter to Sisulu warning her that we will go to court to have the housing allowances reinstated through a court order. We will hold her in contempt of court because the court was clear that any decisions on allowances, salaries and other matter should be discussed with unions, but she has failed to do that,” said Greef. Mabaya said soldiers living in barracks or military housing were not entitled to housing allowances.

Dubazana told The Times the union did not understand “why the minister decided to cancel the housing allowance without communication. On Wednesday we wrote to her, telling her that she has 24 hours to reinstate that allowance. If she doesn’t, we will approach the courts for an interdict which we are confident we will win. We also know that the ministry does not obey the law, and if the court interdict does not work we will be left with no option but to take to the streets again.”

Also at issue are “disparities” between the daily allowances which will be paid to soldiers and police officers during the World Cup. Police officers will receive about R700 a day and a further R130 for food allowance, compared to a R640 a day allowance for soldiers, with no food stipend. As far as can be determined, the police allowance is for overtime. Soldiers are excluded from the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1999 and are not entitled to overtime. In addition,the military has a catering corps and ration packs, which the police lack, and normally do not require food stipends. It is not clear why soldiers are being given an allowance to perform their normal duty.

The union was reportedly also meeting Mgwebi today.