Parliament workers who say they want to strike over a wage agreement process could threaten the president's State of the Nation Address.
Preparations for President Jacob Zuma’s much awaited State of the Nation Address (Sona), which takes place in two weeks, could be scuppered by unprotected strike action involving the majority of Parliament’s staff.
Almost 1 000 of Parliament’s employees – the people who make it possible for lawmakers to do their work – are expected to go on strike as of Wednesday.
This will also be a major test for the newly elected presiding officers, speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, who have been called to intervene by striking workers.
A representative of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which represents about 75% of parliamentary staff said they were scheduled to meet with Mbete and Modise on Wednesday. This could not be confirmed with Parliament.
“We will be telling them ‘don’t allow the institution to go down the drain under your watch’,” said Thabang Molusi, who is the secretary of Nehawu’s Parliament branch.
‘We are ready to be fired’
Parliament is an essential service and its staff is not allowed by law to strike, but Molusi said they would take their chances. “We will bite the bullet, we are ready to be fired if push comes to shove,” he said.
Molusi said: “Any one of our members mustn’t participate on Sona preparations and the setting up of portfolio committees ... We want management to swallow their egos and meet with the workers’ representatives, listen and resolve the issues.”
Parliament staff accuses the institution’s executive management of alienating them and reneging on an agreement signed earlier this year.
Molusi said there were two phases to the salary negotiations held earlier this year – the first phase dealt with salary increases “in terms of percentages” and was implemented in April when employees received salary increases of between 8% for senior staff and 8.2% at entry level.
But the process was not completed, claims Molusi.
He said the second phase would have seen the negotiations continue with a focus on the conditions of employment, but Parliament management did not prioritise “those bread and butter issues”.
Molusi said Parliament also established a remuneration review committee in July 2013, of which Nehawu was a member. The remuneration review would look at a salary structure for Parliament, but the committee has never met.
Parliament’s human resources department is also undergoing restructuring, about which Nehawu claims to have been kept in the dark. “The process is not moving, people are frustrated, and they don’t know what is happening”.
“When it comes to administration, this Parliament is leaderless. These managers have no will to serve Parliament,” he claimed.
He said management has been refusing to meet organised labour and the space and structures for such engagement have collapsed.
Molusi claims that last Friday’s meeting between Nehawu and Parliament management couldn’t continue because only two senior parliamentary managers were present, meaning that a quorum for the meeting could not be reached.
He said following that development, Nehawu called a meeting of all 1 358 parliamentary staff members on Tuesday which took a resolution to declare a dispute with the institution and to withdraw its members  from participating in the preparations for the Sate of the Nation to be held on June 19.
Parliament spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs said the secretary to Parliament, Michael Coetzee, has undertaken to engage with staff representatives.
“We prefer to conduct our relations with the structures that have been there for a while and not through the media,” said Jacobs.