Last Friday morning saw the first round of a major championship fight between the Trainers and Allied Workers Union and the National Amalgamated Central, Local Government and Parastatal Workers Union (better known as the ‘Manual Workers Union’) at the National Food Technology Research Centre in Kanye.
Johnson Motshwarakgole of the Manual Workers Union and two colleagues were scheduled to address a meeting of staff members but attendance was so poor that the meeting had to be cancelled. He says ‘few’ staff members attended but TAWU’s vice president, Edward Tswaipe, says that his soldiers on the ground told him that only two employees attended the meeting.
Motshwarakgole says that he got word that TAWU had lobbied staff members not to attend the meeting. Prior to the meeting, TAWU had indeed indicated its opposition to it and accused management of acting in concert with the Manual Workers Union. The branch secretary, Tumelo Tlhong, officialised TAWU’s protest in a letter that she wrote to the managing director.
Through a series of questions that state in reverse the branch’s convictions about the complicity of the Centre’s management in the whole affair, the letter enquires whether NACLGPWU is a recognised union in terms of the Trade Disputes Act and Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act; whether management wants to compel employees to belong to a union of its own choice; whether management is in the process of actively recruiting NFTRC staff for the Manual Workers Union; whether it is a coincidence that the same law firm and attorney engaged by NFTRC management in an ongoing legal dispute matter against TAWU, is also the same Attorney of the Manual Workers Union; and, whether the behavior of the management, Manual Workers Union and the attorney is ethical.
A process is in train to merge NFTRC, the Department of Agricultural Research and National Veterinary Laboratory into a new research institution. Motshwarakgole says that the purpose of his address was to ensure that all who will be affected by this merger will undergo similar consultation process and have the same conditions of service.
“We can’t speak to one group and leave out others when they will soon become one and have similar conditions of service. That was the purpose of our visit to NFTRC. We didn’t go there to recruit members away from our colleagues whom – by the way – we thought would not have members in a parastatal organisation because they are a teachers’ union. We have enough of our own members but still that doesn’t stop us from recruiting should we wish to do so,” says Motshwarakgole, adding that his union was in no sort of connivance with NFTRC’s management.
Last month the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Micus Chimbombi, nullified the collective labour agreement between TAWU and NFTRC. This was after he dismissed the board chairperson, Leach Tlhomelang, who had recognised such agreement. As a result of this nullification, TAWU has no right of access to NFTRC and in her letter, Tlhong objects to this debarment while the Manual Workers Union has unrestricted access to the Centre. She accuses management of violating the union members’ freedom of association.
“Our members reserve the right to approach the courts of law should management pursue the agenda of choosing a union for employees to join or belong to,” Tlhong warns.
TAWU has taken the debarment issue to the Industrial Court to challenge Chimbombi’s decision. The union’s main argument is that the PS himself has no authority to take the action he did.
Judgement is to be handed down some time this week.