City of Joburg employees facing dismissals over their fixed term contracts that were converted to permanent by the previous administration are mulling taking the city to court.
At least 130 employees said they face the chop after the city sent them letters notifying them about a decision to rescind their permanent appointment, following a council resolution last week. The city deemed the converted contracts as an illegal act by the previous ANC-led mayoral committee, which it said had no powers to do so.
The letters, seen by The Citizen, warned that the appointments from fixed term to permanent contracts constituted an “unlawful gratification in law” and further requested employees’ “assistance to mitigate such continued employment” in order to prevent possible corruption.
“We reiterate that you have a legal duty to assist the office of the city to mitigate any irregular expenditure from employment in terms of Section 78 of the Municipal Finance Management Act.
“Similarly, the law imposes duties and responsibilities to all employees of the municipality to prevent the commission of the above offences. In this regard, you are obliged to assist to prevent the prejudice to the financial and governance of the Municipality, which may have arisen from your continued unlawful permanent employment,” read one of the letters.
The affected staff members were requested to make presentations to the office of the city manager by Wednesday.
‘Will not hesitate going to court’
The SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) cluster secretary Karabo Ramahuma labelled the city’s action as an attempt by Mayor Mpho Phalatse’s DA-led council to bring in their own comrades.
“The city says the positions affected are political appointments and not administrative. How? One of the staffers is a driver… How is a driver and a supervisor political office appointments?
“We are engaging internally with the city, but we won’t hesitate going to court. The city tried this week to meet with staffers and exclude the union that represents them,” said Ramahuma.
According to Samwu, posts such as assistant director, team manager, and supervisor, along with some employees in the communication and social media department, face the axe.
He accused the city of using “bullying tactics” by sending Joburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) members to employees’ homes during the weekend, claiming they forced workers to sign the letters immediately.
During a press briefing held by Phalatse and acting city manager Mesuli Mlandu on Thursday, the mayor said the affected posts were that of senior managers and caucus staff in private and political offices, and not administrative staff.
“These can be defined as positions that support the work of the political principals such as the offices of the mayor, speaker, chief whip, chairpersons, leader of oppositions and MMCs. These are offices that are tied to an electoral outcome and mandate, and so too are the political staffers that supported such offices,” she said.
The posts include, said Phalatse, chief of staff, spokespersons, advisors, and personal assistants recruited on a fixed term linked to that office.
“In the event that the political principal prematurely leaves or steps down, their staffers leave too. This was the case when former mayor Herman Mashaba was succeeded by the late Jeff Makhubo. All of Mashaba’s staffers in his office followed suit.”
She added that a regulation by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Local and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), which would kick in later this year, required that political staff be placed on a fixed term contract with a 30-day exit clause in the event of a change in political administration.
Anticipating the new regulation, the SA Local Government Association (Salga) issued a circular to councils in August last year ordering that the new regulation be implemented ahead of the November 2021 local elections, said Phalatse.
“A report was brought before council, which is an illegal document I should add. It recommended that fixed term contracts of directors and deputy directors in the office of the mayor that are coming to an end in October 2021 be extended by six months from 1 November to 30 April 2022.”
“This was the unsigned document brought to the mayoral committee and was approved in October. Another one recommended that assistant directors and lower levels be converted to full-time employment. This was in contravention of the city’s human resources regulations.”
She called the conversions a “political hijacking” with the city’s residents being the victims in the saga that had become an” expensive exercise” by the previous administration.
According to the mayor, the city employs at least 1,500 other employees on fixed term contracts but no one was concerned about them.
“There is nothing special about these affected political staffers. This is not about political parties, all political offices are affected. This is a new era for the city where there is zero tolerance towards using municipal coffers to build a small army of loyalists at the expeense of close to six million residents.”
The workers’ previously fixed contracts were set to end in April.