SAPS reshuffle intensifies conflict

Conflict over a restructuring exercise in the South African police service (SAPS) is intensifying, after police management told trade unions it will press ahead regardless of what happens in collective bargaining.

The deadlock continued at a workshop in Magaliesburg last week and the feuding parties are scheduled to return to bargaining this week.

The issue made headlines three weeks ago when police officers received letters telling them that all posts would become vacant and that all 135 000 operational force members should reapply for their posts.

This forms part of a wider plan to redeploy staff to strengthen police stations. The unions apparently fear that “restructuring” is a cover for redundancies.

“It’s only a fool who doesn’t understand jobs will be lost,” said Barries Machakela, the South Africa Police Union spokesperson.

On August 28 a memo titled “Restructuring of the South African Police Service: placement of employees”, signed by acting national commissioner Timothy Williams, was sent to all SAPS senior managers countrywide.

The memo says that the 2006 restructuring process, which led to the disbanding of specialised units, such as the child protection unit, must continue and spells out guidelines for filling posts.

“As a result of the new structures all posts in the affected environments are vacant,” the memo reads. Elsewhere it states, rather ominously, “the needs of the organisation will always be paramount”.

The Mail & Guardian understands that the memo sparked a panic in the lower ranks, leading to a management statement on September 4 insisting that no one will lose his or her job.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union spokesperson Benzi Ka Soko said the union learned about the “unilateral” decision from a management media statement.

The union then held an urgent meeting with Williams, after which it declared that the restructuring exercise was “in abeyance”.

This was contradicted by the SAPS, which said restructuring would continue. Police spokesperson Selby Bokaba would not comment.

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