College students still waiting on their living allowances

FET College students are still waiting for their living allowances. (Reuters)

FET College students are still waiting for their living allowances. (Reuters)

Twelve Further Education and Training (FET) college students in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, were placed in a state learnership in January – but to date they have not received a cent of the R1 500 monthly stipends they signed up for.

The Mail & Guardian has established that the King Hintsa FET college students are in fact casualties of infighting at the Food and Beverages Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FoodBev Seta).

This is one of the 21 Setas that the government launched in 2000 to reverse the country’s skills crisis and thereby help address the plight of the 3.4-million 18- to 24-year-olds who are not in employment, education or training.

Tailored to facilitate training for industry needs, they are meant to enable youth participation in learnerships and apprenticeships, and provide college and university bursaries.

But the bodies have constantly been criticised for failing to deliver and wasting billions of rands instead. Their 2014-2015 allocation is nearly R11-billion, money that is amassed from skills levies paid by companies.

At the centre of what appears to be a move to renege on contractual payments by FoodBev Seta is a bitter dispute between the Seta’s management and its board.

No money for anyone
The Seta, whose headquarters are in Rivonia, Johannesburg, has also not paid skills development companies it contracted to provide training in small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

And the King Hintsa FET students are not the only group of public college youth caught in the crossfire, FoodBev has also deserted their counterparts in eight more institutions.

The M&G has seen an email the students sent to the Seta in June, which read: “We were promised by FoodBev Seta that we are going to receive a monthly stipend. We did everything – signed the contract and submitted all the necessary documents and our bank details, up until today we have not yet received anything.”

Three students in the group spoke to the M&G on condition of anonymity, all explaining their plight over the last nine months.

“Some [students] have even dropped out because they can’t afford to come to work,” said one of them. “It’s hard staying in a learnership without being paid, it’s the same as working but not receiving your salary.”

An SMME training provider who asked not to be named said he has spent thousands of rands traversing the country, offering short courses, but the Seta had not paid him for his services.

“There’s never an answer from FoodBev,” he said. “The [SMME] companies needed training for their employees. This is the only chance they get on skills development and upliftment.”

‘We won’t pay’
The Seta’s board is standing its ground, insisting that despite existing contracts with the FET colleges and skills development companies, no payments should be made to them.

Board chair Jan Funky Komape told the M&G the board doesn’t recognise contracts with some FETs and small training companies.

A former Cosatu unionist, Komape was appointed to the Seta’s board by the higher education and training minister, Blade Nzimande, in 2011.

Komape claimed the Seta’s management entered into the contracts erroneously, and so should not be honoured. Only bursary contracts with universities and learnerships at big food and beverage companies were recognised.

SMME trainers were not supposed to be appointed this year because of outstanding policies in the Seta, and the FET contracts are downright flawed, said Komape.

“We have no contract with SMME [trainers]. We’ve got no obligation to any SMME [trainer]. If they [management] believe they are right to pay, they must go ahead and pay. Where we’re sitting, we’ve got no obligation to pay any SMME.

“We’ve never decided to pay; we’re still waiting for procedure to deal with that. In the absence of policy, how then do we entertain payment of any SMME? We can’t talk of paying any SMME. We don’t know any SMME at FoodBev at this stage.”

No SMME agreements in place?
Komape claimed millions of rands “have already been paid [to the trainers], and others are claiming”.

“Our concern as a board is that people are taking the institution for a ride. You cannot have a situation where people just come with a list and say these are the SMMEs we trained. But who said you must train them? Anyone can just come to the Seta and make money, I can tell you, and be a millionaire overnight. That’s why we have to stop that.”

He said management “signed blanket agreements with FETs”. “Most of those agreements have no annexures [detailing] what is the obligation of the Seta and what is the obligation of the FET. That’s the first problem. We [as the board] said, you signed but what is our obligation.”

Mokadi Mathye, the Seta’s chief executive, was not available for comment.

But staff members have confirmed the debacle that’s led to learnership students and training providers not being paid. The employees accused Komape of interfering in administrative duties of the Seta.

“Indeed they [FET students in learnerships] are not being paid [their stipends]. The whole issue involves someone who thinks they shouldn’t be paid. But they should be paid because they have submitted all required documents, and the actual contracts were approved.”

A nationwide issue
The source revealed student bursaries in “eight or so” colleges, allegedly including Gert Sibande FET in Mpumalanga, Motheo and Flavius Mareka FETs in Free State and Goldfields FET in the Eastern Cape, have also not been paid.

“Students there are [also] waiting for their bursaries. They all applied and were approved, but the board chairperson [Komape] decided that they should not be paid.”

The department of higher education and training now wants answers from FoodBev over leaving FET students in the lurch, according to its spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana.

“The department is aware of the reports from FET college students who have not been paid and as such, the department brought this to the attention of the Seta. The department is waiting the report/response from the chief executive of the Seta about this matter,” said Nkwanyana.

 
Bongani Nkosi

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