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Truant MPs leave controversial labour Bill hanging

The sitting on Thursday night was the last one scheduled until MPs return from their constituencies next month.

Just shortly after 8.30pm, House chairperson, Cedric Frolick (ANC) called it, saying the passing of the Bill would be postponed because the National Assembly was 34 MPs short of the required 50% plus one (201 MPs) to vote on a Bill.

About half-an-hour earlier, Frolick had put the voting "on hold", saying it would go ahead when more MPs were in the House. At that time, around 8pm, there were 22 MPs short to meet the threshold.

Democratic Alliance (DA) MPs, barring deputy chief whip Sandy Kalyan, walked out of the House in protest against the Bill. The DA has 71 MPs in the 400-member National Assembly.

The ANC has 238. With its overwhelming majority, the ruling party could have easily made the quorum even without the opposition MPs present.

A number of DA MPs later tweeted about their "cunning plan" of walking out and stopping the Bill from being passed. They also posted pictures of themselves sitting outside the chamber to frustrate the quorum.

It was not the first time that Parliament failed to pass a controversial Bill due to truant MPs.

In March 2011, Parliament could not vote on the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill, which, among other things, aimed to professionalise municipal management, because 231 out of 400 MPs were AWOL. This left the House with 32 members short of the required quorum of 50% plus one.

At the time, the ANC vowed tough party discipline.

Spokesperson for the ANC caucus Moloto Mothapo said at the time, the ANC was prepared to take "a big chunk of the blame" for the failure to pass the Bill, but that MPs from other parties were also absent.

"It's a general [lack of] discipline across all the parties," said Mothapo. He said the ANC would follow internal disciplinary processes in dealing with truant MPs, especially those who had not first sought approval for their absence from the office of the then ANC chief whip, Mathole Motshekga.

Thursday was also the first day in office for newly appointed ANC chief whip Stone Sizani and dealing with poor attendance would surely be high up on his to-do list.

The Labour Relations Amendment Bill has been a bone of contention, with both trade federations and the DA opposed to it for different reasons.

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