Getrude Makhafola
Premium Journalist
4 minute read
7 Mar 2022
3:50 pm

‘Intimidation, unfair labour practice’: City of Joburg urged to give workers time

Getrude Makhafola

Lawyers for City of Joburg staffers facing the chop said their clients won't be making representations to the employer as they needed more time.

The City of Joburg council chambers. (Photo for illustration by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele)

Lawyers representing the 130 City of Joburg staffers facing dismissals over converted job contracts have accused the city of intimidation and unfair labour practice.

The city is embroiled in a tug of war with staffers who face the chop after the council took a decision on 25 February to rescind their permanent appointment that was converted by the previous ANC-led administration.

The city deemed the conversion of the fixed-term contracts to permanent as an illegal act by the previous mayoral committee, which it said had no powers to do so.

Acting city manager Mesuli Mlandu warned in the notices 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.

Time frame unreasonable’

In a letter to the city manager, attorneys Motalane Inc said the time frame provided to the staffers to make representations was “wholly inadequate and unreasonable” given the allegations made by the city against them.

“You would no doubt appreciate that your notice as referred to above has subjected our clients to job insecurities and uncertainty and wish to draw your attention further that your conduct may constitute intimidation, and/or unfair
labour practice.

“We are instructed that there are a number of legal opinions that have been sought on this issue and thus it’s clear that this matter requires proper legal advice, which our clients are entitled to.”

According to the notices, 2 March was the deadline for them to make representations on how their employment status should be handled.

ALSO READ: City of Joburg staffers threaten to go to court over looming dismissals

‘Only a court can declare workers’ job status’

In a press briefing last week, Mayor Mpho Phalatse told reporters that the affected posts were that of senior managers and caucus staff in private and political offices, and not administrative staff.

Phalatse said the posts include 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,” Phalatse said.

However, the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) charged that those facing dismissal included administrative staff. A driver and a team manager were among those facing the chop, said the union’s cluster secretary Karabo Ramahuma.

Samwu, in the Johannesburg region, on Friday wrote to Mlandu and director of group corporate and shared services, Hennie Labuschagne, requesting that the deadline for representations be moved to Wednesday 9 March to allow the employees to consult with their lawyers.

Only a court can determine the status of the affected workers, the union said.

“We want to put it on record that we take exception to public utterances made by the executive mayor to the effect that our members will be dismissed. We take great exception to your overreaching behaviour.

“It is our belief that only a competent court has the authority to declare the validity of our members’ permanent contracts. It is against this background that we advise the employer to approach such a court for a declaratory order,” read the letter.

According to Ramahuma, the city is yet to respond to the lawyers and the union.

‘Council is not the employer’

In a response on the labour dispute, former finance MMC in the previous administration Matshidiso Mfikwe, whose mayoral committee converted the contracts, said the conversions were done legally, adding that council cannot “change a decision it did not take”.

“Council is not the employer so it cannot resolve to fire anyone… council is only responsible for implementation of Section 56 and 57 [of the Municipal Finance Management Act] and directly refers reports to a city manager.

“Beyond that, it’s an administrative process. Even the mayoral committee cannot do that. This could be viewed as unfair dismal on the side of the employer as no case was brought and concluded against the employees.”

The previous mayoral committee, Mfikwe said, had a right and a legal standing to convert the contracts.

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