How Numsa shop stewards splurged R200k

A National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) report has pointed to the wholesale looting of workers’ money by shop stewards at an Eastern Cape transport company for what they called “stress relief” and the “drowning of sorrows”.

The report, leaked to amaBhungane, indicates that after Schnellecke Logistic Solutions management withdrew from overseeing the fund in 2009, leaving control in union hands, close to R200 000 was splurged on T-shirts, parties, hotel accommodation, alcohol and taxi fares.

It also finds that in 2011 nine stewards who feared being replaced at the Uitenhage firm awarded themselves R4 000 each, code-naming the payouts “licences”.

Numsa would not confirm the estimated scale of the loss or comment on the report, saying that it will only be presented to its regional executive committee next week.

The fund was set up in 2006, initially under joint union-company management, with the aim of supporting proper shop steward work. It was funded from a 1% “agency fee” deducted from nonunion employees.


Plundered
The report finds this was in breach of Numsa’s constitution, which stipulates that all such deductions should be held by the union’s national office.

Section 25 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) states that “no agency fee deducted may be used for any expenditure that does not advance or protect the socioeconomic interests of employees”.

The inquiry was conducted by an internal Numsa commission that included regional treasurer Zama Silo, regional legal officer Bonginkosi Zulu and Port Elizabeth local secretary Bandla Mtshiselwa.

Their report finds that:

  • Money plundered from the trust fund was used for “bosberaads” (the drowning of sorrows) and “stress relief” (the abuse and misuse of the agency fee).
  • In 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 the stewards’ council forked out R12 000 for “December farewell getaway parties” with “rooms, braai and booze” for stewards at the Formula One hotel in Port Elizabeth’s upmarket Summerstrand area. The report says that at one of these events “comrade Trevor moered comrade Louis (full names unknown) with an empty of Klipdrift (brandy)”.
  • Stewards paid themselves R100 to cover taxi fares after a night partying at the Waterford and Governor hotels in Uitenhage. “This was a decision of the committee,” the report says. It adds that “two or three got soccer tickets”.
  • About R120 000 was spent on T-shirts for a wage strike in 2010.
  • In 2011 members of “the old committee” made a lump-sum withdrawal and awarded themselves R4 000 each for what they code-named “licences”.

“We knew we might not come back,” a certain “comrade Nojokwe” is quoted as saying. “Anything about money we did not minute because we know we are making corruption. We took a position that we are going to deny it.”

Full financial audit
The report recommends that the regional executive orders a full financial audit to ascertain exactly what went into the account and how much was misspent.

It also recommends the suspension of those implicated, pending the outcome of the audit.

Regional officials Silo and Mtshiselwa declined to comment on whether any action had been taken. “As an organisation we’re still looking into the matter,” Silo said. “We’ll table the report to the REC [regional executive committee], which will take a decision.”

The regional executive committee meeting will be held this weekend.

The report says that three shop stewards, Xola Balfour, Mfundo Mpushe and Lucas Skhumbulo, refused to co-operate with the investigation.

‘Unfounded allegations’
Balfour and Mpushe stonewalled questions, with Balfour saying: “I don’t deal with unfounded allegations, so I’d rather not comment.” Skhumbulo could not be contacted.

Nelson Mandela Bay ANC councillor Wandisile Jikeka, who was a shop steward at Schnellecke at the time of the alleged corruption, denied any wrongdoing.

Jikeka, a former mayoral committee member who was dropped by current mayor Danny Jordaan, left the company in 2011.

“I know there was an agency fee at Schnellecke but as far as I know we never abused any money, because I was a full-time shop steward,” he said this week.

“I didn’t even know there was such a report, so let me check with Numsa people and get back to you.”

Allegations
Numsa regional secretary Phumzile Nodongwe confirmed that the trust fund has been managed by Numsa’s national structures for the past three years, following the corruption allegations.

“These are still allegations, but after they surfaced head office took over the running of the account,” he said last week.

Numsa national treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo confirmed that the account is now managed by the union’s national leadership.

“The organisation cannot tolerate such things. If the shop stewards are found to have been in the wrong, they must face the music,” Maqungo said.

Schnellecke regional human resources manager Lynn Damons confirmed that, “in conformity with the requirements of … the LRA and in return for Numsa’s collective negotiations on behalf of all employees in the hourly rated bargaining unit”, the company had agreed to deduct an agency fee from nonunion employees.

Damons refused to say how much was in the account when the company withdrew from managing it.

“Numsa remains solely responsible and accountable for the application and expenditure of these funds … the company is unable to comment on Numsa’s compliance or otherwise with these requirements,” she said.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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