Now SASFU joins the fray

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The South African Security Forces’ Union (SASFU) has joined the fray around soldiers’ pay and warns that a failure to addresses grievances will result in more protest action by disgruntled soldiers “which may result in violence.”

The Pretoria News and SAPA report that`s the word from SASFU president Bhekinkosi Mvovo, who addressed the media on Sunday following a two-day meeting at which the union discussed the clash between police and soldiers at the Union Buildings last Wednesday as well as other issues.

The Pretoria News reports Mvovo “made it clear that SASFU members did not wish to resort to violence and wanted to resolve their problems within the confines of the law.”

But he warned that if issues like racism in the SANDF were not resolved soon there could be dire consequences, “as seen previously when white and black soldiers opened fire at each other”, a reference to a spate of incidents about a decade ago when black soldiers killed or wounded several white officers and non-commissioned officers.

Mvovo said the union did not condone last Wednesday’s violence involving members of the rival SA National Defence Union (SANDU), but SASFU deputy president Charles Jacobs said: “The soldiers have run out of patience and if the minister continues to ignore their grievances, we can’t say what will happen.”

Jacobs said the public condemning protesters for violence and vandalism did not understand that the soldiers had been trying to have their concerns addressed since 1994.

Demands

Primedia`s Eyewitness News reports SASFU will use “all legal avenues at its disposal to oppose the dismissal of soldiers” who participated in the protest.

SASFU said that to allow “a peaceful resolution of the present impasse” the defence force has to release all soldiers who have been arrested. It is not clear how many soldiers were arrested Wednesday or afterwards.

SASFU also resolved that an independent investigation had to be launched into Wednesday’s “alleged acts of provocation by members of the SAPS”.

The Pretoria News also reported that SASFU, which is closely linked to the Congress of SA Trade Unions, had “agreed that all workers had to mobilise to call for the dropping of moves to dismiss the estimated 3000 soldiers who participated in the strike, and that charges against them should be dropped.” The paper did not explain whether this was a call for a general strike by the million-member trade union federation that is an ally of the ruling African National Congress. Other reports have put the number of marchers at 1000 and 2000.

SASFU also resolved that the minister immediately revive the process – which had been suspended – for the finalisation of the military bargaining council to avoid further criminalisation of labour-related disputes in military tribunals, The Pretoria News added.

The union said it could not allow a situation to continue in which soldiers were the worst-paid in the security cluster. Mvovo said an increasing number of soldiers were leaving the SANDF to join the police, as the SAPS paid better.

SASFU and SANDU have both complained that entry-level soldiers are paid less than beginner constables.

“An entry-level police constable earns R6500 a month compared to less than R2300 for entry-level troops,” the Sunday Times reported yesterday.

Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) data provided to defenceWeb show the reason for this is that SANDF privates are appointed on Level 4, earning between R65 880 and R76 485 a year before allowances, while police and correctional officers are appointed at Level 5 and are paid a basic R77 937 to R91 383. The DPSA figures are accurate for July 2008.      

SANDF Military Skills Development (MSD) Programme recruits are paid substantially less, earning just R28 000 a year. The amount is not taxed and translates to R2300 a month. They are also paid a taxed R18 000 bonus at the end of their two year service period.

The discrepancy between Level 4 and 5 date from the early last century when the police were a constabulary. Traditionally these eschewed privates (Level 4) and rated their lowest ranks as equivalent to lance corporals (Level 5).

It is not clear if the discrepancy is still justified.

MSD personnel in theory should have no family responsibilities and are provided free medical, food, housing and uniform. Constables have to pay for medical aid, uniform and housing, even in police barracks, and must provide their own food.

Proponents of the gap would also note that soldiers are deployed in safer circumstances than police, even in rough neighbourhoods such as Darfur. They are also paid large tax-free bonuses after each deployment. Police, by contrast, face death at the hands of criminals every day of their working life – and after-hours too.

The “commissar” complains

SASFU national organiser “Commissar” Fieldmore Mapeto noted in a statement issued after the SASFU press conference that defence personnel “are expose to perpetuated poverty, repossession of houses and families disintegration (divorces) due to low salaries, the deprivation of basic benefit and the long stay in rank without promotions.” [Sic, errors in the original]

The statement, carried on Politicsweb, added that this “is the culmination of the compressed anger that manifested during the integration process in 1994, of wrongful ranking of members and the appalling working conditions which members are subject to, and the unwillingness of the defence management to better the conditions of service for members, the situation which has been exacerbated by the socio-political and economic down turn. [Sic]

“Our members as SASFU were left politically dilapidated by the incident of the 26th August 2009 where the genuine grievances presented by SANDU to the ministry of Defence and Military veterans were silence down by the muzzle of the machine gun fire by the SAPS.” [Sic] Media reports the marchers were headed for the Union Buildings, not the defence ministry, and police used water cannon, stun grenades, teargas and shotguns.

The statement also charged that “Sisulu has failed to embrace the new culture of the post-Polokwane ANC. 

“The majority of the members that took part in the march are the poor workers that threw all their power in mobilising the communities for a decisive ANC victory in the past elections. That was done as the ANC promised to engage in the culture of consultation. We will therefore not allow a situation where we vote people into public office, but they become arrogant and find all manners to expel our members from their employment.

The SASFU National Executive Council also had cold words for the ANC`s uMkhonto weSizwe Veterans Association (MKVA) that had condemned the SANDU march and sided with Sisulu that those involved should be dismissed.

“This anti-trade union stance has also been shared by the DA (Democratic Alliance) shadow minister of Defence and the leadership of the movement must avoid conflicting the constitution and the valued traditions of our struggle.”

The DoD responds

The Business Day reports the DoD hopes to improve soldiers` salaries “by revising the link between rank and pay.”

The paper says salaries in the SANDF are largely dependent on rank, which means a soldier`s pay increases with each promotion. The head of transformation management in the SANDF, Major General Ntsiki Memela-Motumi, Thursday said the military`s rigid structure prevented rapid promotion and soldiers in lower ranks were therefore stuck with low salaries.

However, it was envisaged that “de-linking” salary and rank would improve earnings and lessen frustration. “It`s a proposal that we had already adopted in defence. However, with our new minister understanding and accepting that we need a special dispensation for soldiers, we hope that this will be done before her term expires,” she said.

SANDU national secretary Pikkie Greeff told Business Day the proposal was “practical”. He added the union had raised it as long ago as 2004. “The typical thing is that a corporal who was expecting to be promoted to sergeant in three to four years sits in that rank for eight years,” said Greeff. Without a promotion the soldier remains on the same salary level. The paper did not mention that the soldier gets an annual cost-of-living increase roughly tied to inflation. This is not always the case in the private sector, where companies are going bankrupt while others are cutting salaries to stay afloat.



Greeff said the government was also understood to be looking at another proposal to remove soldiers` salary scale from the public service and instead create a special dispensation based on their skills.