Striking National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union members disrupt a portfolio committee meeting in Parliament. Photo: Emsie Ferreira

Parliament - Striking Parliamentary staff dispersed from the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon after the legislature was forced to cancel its sittings.

There was a heavy police presence in the parliamentary precinct with dozens of members of various police units, including the public order policing unit, on hand while workers sang and danced inside the National Assembly (NA) chamber.

The protesting staff stormed the public gallery of the NA at 10am, effectively forcing the adjournment of the sitting.

They stayed put, refusing to move until their demands were met, eventually succeeding in getting the second sitting of the day at 2pm cancelled as well.

“The chief whips of political parties have agreed to postpone further meetings today [Tuesday] and to extend the National Assembly programme by an additional two days,” ANC chief whip Stone Sizani’s office said in a statement.

Sizani called on Parliament and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) to try and end the impasse.

“We reaffirm our support for the right of workers to strike and to withdraw labour in demand of their labour rights. The disruption, however, regrettably harms MPs’ Constitutional right to perform the duties for which they were elected,” Sizani said.

“It is in this vein that we strongly appeal to the two parties in the dispute to do all they can to speedily resolve the outstanding differences – which we believe are not insurmountable.”

The passage of two pieces of key legislation this week - the adjustments appropriation bill and the division of revenue bill – hangs in the balance as a result of the strike.

Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen said this could have been avoided.

“The question is why has such important budget legislation …been left to so late in the year, in the dying days of the annual session?”

Steenhuisen said the effect of the strike on MPs and the parliamentary budget would be dire.

“MPs were told on Wednesday evening we’ll be finishing up. It is impacting on flights, etc and there’s also a cost involved in sittings,” he said.

“There’s also no guarantee that tomorrow [Wednesday] and Thursday’s sittings are actually going to proceed at all.”

Workers also disrupted committee meetings, forcing MPs to adjourn their business.

A senior parliamentary official said some committees reconvened, but others could not due to the ongoing industrial action.

The striking staff would return to Parliament on Wednesday morning as they vow to increase pressure on parliamentary management to heed their calls for higher performance bonuses.

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