Wednesday, February 18, 2015

South African Post Office Strike Looms
Sapo employees want the government to bail out the troubled postal service and are threatening another strike, leaving mail's future in the balance.

18 Feb 2015 00:00
Thuletho Zwane

Post office workers have been striking intermittently about unresolved labour issues for the past three years.

The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) has asked for the removal of the South African Post Office (Sapo) administrator, whom the union accuses of “failing dismally” and being a “cancer” to the post office.

The administrator, referred to as Dr “No-good” Simo Lushaba by the CWU leaders, is accused of being a liability and a threat to the survival of Sapo.

“He cost the company R16.6-million to R20-million in just three months in consultants’ fees as compared to the R5-million per annum which is what it cost the taxpayers to maintain the board,” said CWU general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala.

In November last year, the Mail & Guardian reported that Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele had allegedly asked the post office board to resign. If they refused to do so he said he would fire them.

The department of telecommunications and postal services brought in Lushaba to stabilise Sapo. His first task was to appoint an “intervention” team to deal with the post office’s inability to function as a result of a strike that lasted four months, huge financial losses, the board’s lack of decisiveness and issues linked to corruption and wasteful expenditure.

Consultants have achieved nothing

Speaking at a press conference at the CWU offices on Wednesday, president Clyde Mervin said R20-million was too much money to be paid to 14 consultants over a period of three months.

He added: “They say they don’t have money but Lushaba himself earns R1.1-million a month – over R12-million a year.”

Mervin said Cwele recently extended Lushaba’s contract by another three months to May 7, “something the union is ready to go on a strike over”.

“Cwele just went and extended without talking to the union and, as far as we are concerned, we will remind him that Lushaba and his consultants have achieved nothing for the last three months they have been in office,” Mervin said.

“Let’s look at what they have achieved … they closed more than 100 offices in South Africa. Before you shut down offices you must consult unions and workers. When you close the office, first thing you ask is what happens to the workers, what happens to people in the rural areas,” Mervin said.

More strikes on the cards

Mervin said Lushaba’s contract was extended and that another possible R20-million would be given to him and his consultants – he has yet to reveal a post office turnaround strategy. “He has failed on the issues, he must leave,” said Mervin.

He added that the minister should speed up the process of appointing a new Sapo board and reopen the post offices around the country.

“Otherwise we are ready to go on strike. We are long and ready for this strike. We have a certificate that has legalised a well co-ordinated strike,” said Mervin.

The M&G has seen correspondence between Lushaba, post office workers and the CWU in which Lushaba warns the workers and the union that another strike would only hurt them, that “some victories amount to more suffering for the victor, which essentially directly erases any sense of victory. In my view, any strike of service disruption will amount to nothing but a pyrrhic victory for the victor.

“No union or workers can claim victory … any strike or service disruption will break the post office and there will be no company to talk about thereafter,” said Lushaba.

Why doesn’t the government help?

The other demand made by the union is for government to bail out Sapo as it did Eskom and SAA.

“We demand unconditional bailout because the government is partly to blame by going against our clarion call over the past 10 years, to end corruption at Sapo,” said Tshabalala.

The M&G has learned that Sapo chief financial officer Khumo Mzozoyana has been suspended.

A post office stakeholder told the M&G that Mzozoyana and group chief operating officer Mlu Mathonsi had questioned the R16.6-million paid to Lushaba’s consultants and the R1.081-million a month paid to Lushaba in the light of the post office being in the red.

“That’s why she was suspended but the official line is that she had not submitted Sapo’s audited financial statements,” said the stakeholder.

Mervin said a strike was imminent and that the union was working on a plan of action with workers.

“When the certificate [to have a legal strike] was received, the workers were saying, ‘let’s go on strike’. I can tell you it will be a huge strike. We have not signed an agreement [with the post office] in the last two years and the workers are itching,” said Mervin.

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