Employees at the Ingonyama Trust Board staged a series of lunchtime pickets this week and are preparing to go on strike over alleged unfair labour practices at the ITB and its refusal to recognise the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).
The first placard protest was held on Monday at the ITB’s headquarters in Pietermaritzburg. The board administers almost three million hectares of rural KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of King Misuzulu kaZwelithini.
The protests continued on Tuesday, with staff members giving the ITB chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya, until Friday to address their demands, after which they will embark on a series of work stoppages and, if necessary, a full blown strike.
Nehawu has tried to organise at the ITB, which is funded by the department of land reform and rural development, since 2014 but has not managed to secure a recognition agreement with the board.
A staff member, who asked not to be identified for fear of victimisation, said workers were “fed up with being mistreated and abused”.
“People are only paid when the boss [Ngwenya] feels like paying them. There are bonuses being given to those who are close to management, while the rest of us are being paid late. We cannot take this any longer,” the employee said.
Staff members also complained of unfair labour practices, including the refusal to make permanent appointments of people who had been on short-term contracts for up to seven years. Six staff members, who were suspended in 2016, are still sitting at home on full pay, despite attempts to resolve the issue.
“There are people on suspension since 2016. Management is refusing to recognise the union and to abide by labour laws. There are a lot of things that are wrong,” the staff member said.
“We have given management until Friday to respond to our demands. If they don’t we will strike.”
Last year, Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza, under whose department the ITB falls, appointed an interim board to run its affairs until a new board could be appointed.
This was after parliament placed Ngwenya on terms over the ITB’s failure to ensure funds it raised from leases on ITB land benefited residents living on land under its control.
The death of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu delayed this process, which appears to have stagnated.
A second staff member said that after the section 189 retrenchment notices were issued by Ngwenya last year, they had been taken for assessment to ascertain who could be retained when the ITB was restructured.
“An organogram was drawn up and accepted but nothing was ever implemented. Instead, we are threatened with retrenchment every time we raise issues,” the staff member said.
“If we are not taken seriously, we will close this place down. Nobody will enter. Nobody will leave.”
Nehawu provincial secretary Andile Zulu said the ITB had refused to recognise the union despite more than 70% of the workforce having signed up as members.
“Labour law states that an employer must recognise a union that has more than 50% of the workforce. The matter was taken to the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] but wasn’t resolved. The CCMA issued a certificate allowing workers to go on strike,” Zulu said.
“The pickets are the build up to a full blow strike, which will start next week.”
Neither Ngwenya or ITB spokesperson Simphiwe Mxakaza had responded to queries from the Mail & Guardian by the time of publication.