/ 16 July 2015

Labour officials told to cough up for defying minister

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.

Senior officials in the labour department have been instructed to pay legal bills totalling thousands of rands from their own pockets for simply doing their job.

Their sin: refusing to bow to political pressure from Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, her deputy, Phathekile Holomisa, and director general Thobile Lamati to drop the department’s Labour Court bid to put the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu) under administration.

The union has failed to submit audited financial statements for more than three years, as required by the labour department. 

If the department’s court bid succeeds, it could end Simon Mofokeng’s reign as Ceppwawu’s general secretary. Mofokeng is linked to a dominant group in Cosatu led by federation president Sdumo Dlamini.

The Mail & Guardian has seen correspondence between Oliphant, Holomisa, Lamati and officials in the department’s registrar of labour relations. The registrar is responsible for regulating all trade unions and is expected to act independently and without any political interference.

Deputy Minister Phathekile Holomisa.

In a letter to the registrar Johan Crouse, dated July 10 2015, Lamati wrote: “On June?8 2015, the minister forwarded a letter via email to the acting deputy director general: labour relations, instructing them [senior officials in the unit] to suspend the Labour Court application in question until such time she has been fully briefed on the matter. She further indicated that her personal assistant will liaise with the registrar on the suitable date when she can be fully briefed.

“I am advised that the office of the minister attempted to schedule a date as indicated by the minister; however, the registrar failed to avail himself to brief the minister,” the letter said.

“It has come to my attention that the registrar did not suspend the Labour Court application as instructed and went ahead with the application on June 18 2015. I am deeply concerned with the manner in which the labour policy and industrial relations unit, specifically the registrar, handled this matter and ignored the minister’s clear instructions,” wrote Lamati.

Lamati said legal costs incurred as a result of the court application would be regarded as irregular expenditure and would be recovered from the officials involved in the case.

Oliphant’s spokesperson, Sithembele Tshwete, said: “When the minister requests a briefing from an official of the department she designated to perform a function, that does not amount to interference.”

Director general Thobile Lamati.

Tshwete said, according to the law, the registrar of labour relations is appointed by the minister and is therefore accountable to her.

Mofokeng, who is also a businessperson, has been accused by fellow Ceppwawu leaders of mismanaging the union. He is alleged to have benefited financially from companies such as Sasol, where Ceppwawu organises workers.

The M&G reported in 2010 that Mofokeng was under investigation for allegedly using his union position to negotiate a multimillion-rand deal with Sasol for his wife’s company.

The Sunday Times reported in 2013 that Mofokeng and his wife, Maureen, were allegedly raking in at least R320 000 a month from a shady empowerment deal with Sasol valued at R60-million a year. The deal for coal handling was given to Khotso Batho, a company in which Maureen Mofokeng owns a 90% stake.

Ceppwawu owns an investment company valued at R3.8-billion, but the labour department said the union has failed to submit the firm’s audited financial statements.

Crouse has blamed infighting between factions in the union for paralysing Ceppwawu to such an extent that it is incapable of complying with its obligations. – Additional reporting by Qaanitah Hunter