Workers square up against transport department over canned contracts
They were told they would be working for another year, then suddenly found themselves terminated
When Reba Nkau and 55 other Eastern Cape transport department contract workers had their contracts extended in September 2018, they were very excited to still be able to provide for their families.
But that excitement quickly turned to tears when the department terminated their contracts a month later, allegedly without notice, Nkau said on behalf of the group.
They have now placed their hope in the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council (GPSSBC) to reverse the department’s decision, and recoup the salaries they apparently did not receive in December 2018.
At least one labour expert has said the department’s action was illegal.
The council confirmed the case against the department and that a conciliation meeting was planned for Thursday, to try to resolve the matter.
In September 2018, the workers – some whom have been with the department for more than 10 years – received a letter extending their contract for a year. “This is to notify that all contract workers for roads unit, their contract of employment has been extended for a period of one year,” the letter read. It was signed by acting director of human resource management Nomthandazo Ntozakhe.
“The contracts are extended for a 12-month period while the department is in a process of filling these posts on a permanent basis,” Ntozakhe wrote.
She also asked all contract workers to urgently submit all their academic qualifications and on-job training certificates.
Barely a month later, the workers were shocked when they were issued with another letter from Ntozakhe informing them that their contracts had been extended only until December 2018.
On top of that, they were allegedly not paid their December salaries.
“I’ve been with the department for more than eight years and I have no other place to go to. The way they treated us, it’s as if we do not matter to them,” Nkau said.
Nkau and her co-workers have approached their union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), and the Bargaining Council to intervene.
She said most of the employees are plant operators or work directly on the maintenance of the province’s roads and in administration.
Nkau, who was an assistant director in the office of the deputy director-general’s (DDG) infrastructure, has been working for the roads unit for nearly 10 years.
“When our unit was moved from public works about a year ago to the transport department, we had hoped that things will be smooth. I didn’t expect that I can lose a job that I have been doing for such a long time.”
The most affected region is Mthatha, with 28 of its workers terminated – 10 at head office, five in the Amathole region, four in Alfred Nzo, two in Chris Hani and two in Joe Gqabi.
Labour expert Andrew Levy described the decision by the department as unfair dismissal.
“They have the law on their side. The Labour Relations Act protects them against this seemingly blatant discrimination and unfair treatment.”
He said that, according to the act, since the workers were transferred it is deemed uninterrupted service, so the contract should continue as with the previous department.
Nehawu’s Eastern Cape secretary Miki Jaceni said the union was aware that the contracts had been terminated.
“We are opposed to this retrenchment. We were not consulted. So this is an illegal decision by the MEC (Weziwe Tikana) and her management. We have since instructed our legal team to take all appropriate steps to ensure that these workers don’t lose their jobs.”
If the department failed to reverse its decision, the union would not hesitate to apply for a full strike.
Eastern Cape transport spokesperson Khuselwa Rantjie confirmed that a number of contract workers had their contracts terminated in November and December “as their contracts came to an end”.
“The department is currently busy with the recruitment to fill those vacancies,” Rantjie said.
Those workers whose contracts had been terminated would be able to reapply.
“The employees are guaranteed rights under various South African labour laws and are at liberty to consult the relevant structures. We are still weighing our options on the matter in line with relevant legislation,” she said.
She added that the department had the right to begin the recruitment process so that it strengthened its internal capacity to meet service delivery objectives.
Rantjie refused to comment on how the workers had received conflicting letters.