Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) Minister Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa. File picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS
Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) Minister Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa. File picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS

Unions slam Cyril Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan for Transnet ’blindside’

By Samkelo Mtshali Time of article published Jun 24, 2021

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Johannesburg - Two of the biggest unions at Transnet have slammed the government for “blindsiding” them following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Tuesday that Transport National Ports Authority (TNPA) would become an independent subsidiary of Transnet.

In a no-holds barred statement issued by the United National Transport Union (Untu) and the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) said that they had been shocked and caught off guard by Ramaphosa’s announcement.

Ramaphosa said that an interim board would be appointed by Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) Minister Pravin Gordhan by June 30 to establish the new independent subsidiary.

Untu general secretary Steve Harris and Satawu’s general secretary Jack Mazibuko also lashed out at Gordhan for what they termed as a misleading statement when he said that the two had welcomed the government's decision to make TNPA an independent subsidiary of Transnet.

The unions said that whoever Gordhan had spoken to was “certainly not representing the 3 135 Transnet Bargaining Council (TBC) employees working for TNPA of whom Untu represents 54% and Satawu represents 35.2%”.

Harris and Mazibuko said they did not believe the government’s “sudden decision” to implement the National Ports Act of 2005 that had already been gazetted on November 26, 2006, was in the best interest of South Africa, Transnet nor its employees.

They said the government had ignored the unions representing Transnet employees when the act was crafted 15 years ago and then ignored unions again when politicians decided to implement the act.

“For the past 15 years Untu and Satawu were both given the assurance by numerous stakeholders including the various former ministers of public enterprises and former chief executive officers of Transnet that this act will never be implemented.

“Where the government has tried a similar exercise with Transwerk, a former division of Transnet, in 1999, it later resulted in job losses of the affected employees. Transnet is already pleading poverty, yet will have to carry the cost of an additional board that will be appointed by the minister,” Harris said.

He added that he had made several attempts, through written letters, to meet with Gordhan since his appointment as Public Enterprises Minister in 2018 to discuss issues including the implications of the act.

Harris said that despite Gordhan having undertaken to set up the meeting when the Covid-19 pandemic had “cooled down”, the meeting never materialised.

Trade union Cosatu has rejected the government’s move, saying that it views the move with suspicion and scepticism as it was not in line with the vision of the alliance and the ANC Manifesto.

Cosatu added its voice to the growing discontent among unions, including Untu and Satawu - who said that they were shocked and caught off-guard by the move.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said that “this new method of unbundling SOEs” had not been properly canvassed with relevant stakeholders and was at odds with the commitment to a developmental and interventionist state.

“This is deeply disturbing because this decision was unilaterally taken without broad and comprehensive consultation of stakeholders and unions, in particular. It has become a habit for this administration to clandestinely take drastic decisions about state-owned companies without engaging unions or other social partners.

“The privatisation of South African Airways and this dismantlement and fragmentation of Transnet have been decided without unions being properly engaged. This follows in the footsteps of massive retrenchments at SABC that took place despite strong objections from labour,” Pamla said.

He further stated that this raised the question of whose vision was being pursued by these unilateral decisions and where did the mandate come from considering that even at a political level, there had not been any discussions about these decisions.

Pamla went on to say that this “so called reform” of the SOEs was taking place in an environment where the current government had made it very clear that it was not interested in state intervention in the economy.

He said that over the past two years, there had been a fixation with rolling back the state’s role in the economy, trimming down the state and opening doors for the private sector to take over.

“The current government policy outlook is that the state’s main task in economic and social development is to minimise impediments and maximise inducements to private capital accumulation,” said Pamla.

“Privatisation, commercialisation and deregulation have become the watchwords of those promoting this vision of public-sector reform in South Africa.”

Labour lawyer Michael Bagraim, of Bagraim Attorneys, said that the unions were right to be upset as they should have been consulted by law, either in terms of Section 189 indicating this move could lead to possible retrenchment or the unions should have been consulted in terms of Section 197 to indicate that workers were being transferred to a new employer.

“Both those sections in the Labour Relations Act force the employer to consult with the trade unions as workers representatives before any decisions are made. From a labour point of view they should’ve been consulted and the government once again hasn’t followed their own laws, as typical of the government, ” Bagraim said.

He added that unions could approach the Labour Court for an interdict or they could refer the matter immediately to the CCMA as an unfair labour practice or they could say that this was a dispute of interest and state they want to approach the CCMA to go on strike.

“If I were the trade union representatives I would also approach the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) because you need a body like Nedlac to intervene because this thing will keep getting repeated.

“We saw this only recently with SAA when Minister Pravin Gordhan made a big announcement that SAA was going to be made up of a new 51% owner and the unions said no one had talked to them. It’s exactly the same thing and it’s going to be repeated again and again until the unions actually take a stand and put an end to it,” Bagraim said.

Attempts to get comment from the Presidency were unsuccessful as written questions were not responded to while DPE spokesperson Richard Mantu referred Independent Media to both Harris and Mazibuko when questions were sent to him.

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Political Bureau

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