Capture claims plague new private-security bargaining council

It should be celebrating two years of existence later this month, but the country’s first-ever bargaining council for employers and workers in the private-security sector finds itself under threat, from both inside and outside forces.

Allegations of capture by powerful employer members and the flouting of corporate governance standards, as well as legal action questioning its legitimacy, are dogging the National Bargaining Council for the Private Security Sector. 

The council’s recognition and registration, on June 21 2018, meant that, for the first time, employers and employees in the sector have a structure that brings together about 9 000 employers and unions representing more than 500 000 workers in the sector.

Among some of the roles the council will perform, are to negotiate and enforce collective agreements on conditions of employment; resolve disputes; establish and administer a common pension and provident fund; and regulate compliance regulations within the sector. 

But all this is under threat, the Mail & Guardian has learned, from threats of legal challenges against the council, as well as from unhappiness within. 

Two internal sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have raised concerns that one of the council’s most powerful members, the Fidelity Security Group, is attempting to capture the council by having its current interim chief executive, Christiaan Oelofse — a Fidelity employee — made permanent. 

This is despite the fact that the council’s previous board had all but completed the process to hire an external person as its chief executive. 

The council’s new board has now resolved to scrap the resolution of the previous board to appoint successful chief executive applicant Alistair Smith to the position and restart the final interviews with Oelofse as an applicant. 

The one source, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said: “It’s very bad corporate governance, and will mean the bargaining council is not independent at all if a person from either side is appointed as chief executive. 

“You can assume that information of the unions, and the other companies, will be in the hands of Fidelity because he’s their employee — who did not even meet the qualifying criteria for this job — [if he] becomes CEO of the council.”

The source said the only thing that halted Smith’s appointment last year was that the council had not yet agreed on a levies policy, meaning there wasn’t any money collected to pay his R1.8-million salary. 

Minutes of the meeting, seen by the M&G, show that Smith was unanimously chosen as the best candidate, but it was agreed that he would be appointed when a levies agreement was signed and in place. Oelofse was then made interim chief executive, while a Fidelity employee. 

“If the concern was really that there isn’t any money, how then is it that Mr Oelofse was paid the same salary [that should have been offered to Smith] by the council before the levies agreement was signed?” asked the source.

Another source said: “So, as you’ve reported on how government departments can restart procurement processes when Fidelity fails to submit a tax clearance certificate in a multibillion-rand tender, we have reversed the first board’s resolution to accommodate them.”

Fidelity this week referred all queries to the council, saying the council would issue a comment “where necessary”. 

The council’s general secretary, Anna Mashigo, did not respond to questions sent a week ago. Fidelity still did not respond despite being told that the council had not responded.

A court challenge

The council is also respondent in a court matter brought by several companies, which seeks to challenge the legitimacy of the council. 

These companies, which are mainly black-owned and new to the sector, allege that the council does not represent even 30% of the employees in the sector. 

Lebo Nare, the general secretary of one of the applicants, Mafoko Security Patrols, said: “Even if there is a dispute on the actual figure, it is in any event definitely not 50%.”

“Mafoko Security Patrols was not approached to form part of the council, and would not have agreed to participate, even if we had been invited, because of the composition of the bargaining council … still does not represent the majority of employer and employee organisations in the sector.”

Nare continued: “In the highly competitive private security sector, anarchy and disunity has, and continues to, benefit the well-established champions of industry — the likes of Fidelity — in this sector, [which] have enjoyed historical dominance and influence.” 

“It is their cabal that has had sway in terms of policy trajectory in the industry, as well as the standard security operating procedures of security personnel, and it is evident now that there are in an attempted to try and regulate other competitors taking over some of the functions of Psira [Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority], which is the independent oversight body.”

Among the 21 founding members of the new council were 19 worker unions, including Association of Mineworkers and Construction, and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, and two employer organisations, the Security Association of South Africa and South African National Security Employers Association.

The bargaining council comprises 24 members appointed from the two employer bodies and labour unions, who share equal seats on the council. Both parties elect 10 executives — five on each side — to form part of the executive committee, which is the implementing arm of the council.

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Sabelo Skiti

Sabelo Skiti is an investigative journalist.

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