Department of Labour inquiries into the collapse of the Grayston Drive footbridge on the M1 in Joburg have stalled. File picture: Kim Ludbrook/EPA
Johannesburg - The Department of Labour is allegedly in a shambles, hit by a string of resignations of senior managers and failing to meet performance targets.

At least 10 managers are said to have resigned in just a year because of what insiders say is a toxic environment of verbal abuse and bullying by the director-general, Thobile Lamati, and the chief operations officer (COO), Marsha Bronkhorst. More staffers are said to be contemplating resigning.

The two are allegedly targeting senior managers in provinces to deflect attention from their incompetence, which has led the department into disarray.

The department is allegedly failing to meet its performance targets in ensuring compliance to labour laws such as employment equity, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) standards and the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

Those who resigned include the provincial heads and directors in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West. Among them is Bheki Gama, the Eastern Cape provincial head and chief director of operations, who resigned late last year, and Beverley Horgan, the chief inspector of operations in Gauteng, who quit last month.

Mpumalanga provincial head Dolly Chiloane has also resigned, as has the chief director in Limpopo, Maurice Mabunda. More staffers are said to be contemplating quitting as Lamati and Bronkhorst allegedly continue to run the department as their fiefdom with scant regard for labour relations law.

“During his ‘exit interview’, Gama said he wouldn’t return to the department as long as Bronkhorst was still in the employ of the department.

“All heads of provinces report to her, and they complained of ill-treatment,” said an insider.

Gama and Mabunda confirmed resigning but declined to comment. Hogan could not be reached for comment.

Some of the alleged verbal abuse of employees is meted out during the departmental executive committee (Dexcom) meetings.

“In two meetings last year, managers complained of public humiliation during presentations.

“Lamati explicitly told the managers ‘if you think those meetings are tough, wait until next week on March 4 and 5 in Kopanong’,” said the source. “Since such meetings managers have been humiliated and treated like children, and this has triggered a string of resignations in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West because the director-general told managers to be very tough on staff.”

Bronkhorst declined to comment and referred questions to Lamati, who said the allegations against Bronkhorst and him “are baseless and devoid of any semblance of truth and misleading”.

“The public sector has clear grievance policies and procedures according to my recollection, the department and/or myself have not received any grievance(s) from anyone against Bronkhorst,” said Lamati.

He said while it was true that a number of senior managers had resigned, it was sensationalism to say they left in ‘massive’ numbers.

He said some of the managers, such as Gama and Chiloane, had left voluntarily.

He confirmed Hogan’s resignation and said she did so after she was charged with misconduct.

Poor performance by the department is at the heart of the victimisation of employees, according to insiders.

The department is allegedly underperforming at 50% against the target of 70% as it continues to struggle meeting its performance targets. Insiders cited the M1 bridge collapse in Sandton and the Tongaat Mall collapse in KwaZulu-Natal, among others, as an indication that the department was failing in its key mandate.

“It’s inexplicable that a department that is supposed to be the custodian of workers’ rights is failing to make progress in investigations of major accidents that threaten employees’ safety,” said another source.

“Those accidents are the ones that the department is directly involved in, in terms of Section 32 of the Occupational Health Safety Act. “It’s very embarrassing that the inquiries drag for too long, considering the loss of life and injuries. All these point to a deficiency in the department, including failing to champion issues like workers’ rights,” said the source

This has ratcheted up the pressure on Bronkhorst and Lamati, who are allegedly shifting the blame onto staff, the source alleged.

“As we speak, the grievance rate stands at over 1000% because of the unprecedented number of (complaints) cases,” said the source, adding that a survey done seven months ago showed morale among staff was at its lowest ebb.

“The outcome hasn’t been released, and the suspicion is that the report is damning against management. They are just hoping the problems will take care of themselves.”

Lamati denied that the grievance rate was at 1000%, saying the department had resolved 166 cases (77%) out of 236 grievances in the 2016/17 financial year.

But such is the toxic climate at the labour department that some staffers have even resorted to contacting Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant directly, according to insiders.

“The minister told staff at the Dexcom that ‘my cellphone has become a call centre where you raise issues. Top management has to deal with issues of staff, not me’,” said a third source.

“The Department of Labour is supposed to be the custodian of workers’ rights, yet when you go there, there’s an atmosphere of fear.” As more and more staffers resign, the department was allegedly not filling the vacancies, including in strategic positions.

“There are more than 1 000 vacancies since the beginning of the last financial year because posts are not being filled within six months.

“The department is returning more than R125 million to the Treasury at this financial year, despite all the vacancies.”

Lamati would neither deny nor confirm if this amount would be returned to Treasury.

On the probes into the M1 bridge, Tongaat Mall and Alberton accidents, Lamati said: “the M1 bridge has not progressed as we have wished due to postponements caused by non-availability of technical expert witnesses and the fact that the presiding officer fell ill”.

“We have appointed a new presiding officer and the inquiry will commence in earnest.

“Secondly, the Tongaat Mall, a section 32 inquiry, was concluded a year ago and handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority for recommendation for prosecution.”

The Sunday Independent