Parliament warns striking workers

Parliament warns striking workers

Parliament would not hesitate to call in police to remove striking staff who disrupt MPs’ work, the legislature’s presiding officers said on Tuesday.


Addressing journalists after committee work and two parliamentary sitting were adjourned as a result of striking workers occupying the National Assembly public gallery, Speaker Baleka Mbete said while negotiations with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) would continue, Parliament would allow no further disruptions.

Mbete said she would enforce the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act which empowers her and her fellow presiding officers to call on the country’s security forces to remove anyone who disrupts sittings or committee meetings.

“We are now saying it’s so far and no further and yes we have given the express authority [for police to intervene],” she confirmed on Tuesday.

National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise concurred, saying it was unacceptable for striking workers to interfere with the work of one of the arms of the South African state.

“It is enough. If you start tinkering with the business of Parliament, you are actually tinkering with the business of the state,” Modise said.

Parliament has to pass two key pieces of legislation this week – the adjustments appropriation bill and the division of revenue bill.

“There is a day by which all of this must be done and we can report to South Africans that it will be done,” Mbete said.

“There is nothing that is going to be allowed to stand in the way of the division of revenue and the appropriation processes that are necessary for Parliament to finalise. Nothing is going to stand in the way of that process. We can promise that.”

Parliament’s management would meet with police on Tuesday night to thrash out a plan of action for Wednesday when the legislature is expected to enforce an interdict which prohibits workers from engaging in protest action on the premises.

There was a heavy police presence in the parliamentary precinct on Tuesday with dozens of members of various police units, including the public order policing unit, on hand while workers sang and danced inside the National Assembly (NA) chamber.

The workers had stormed the public gallery of the NA at 10am, effectively forcing the adjournment of the sitting.

They stayed put, refusing to move until their demands were met, eventually succeeding in getting the second sitting of the day cancelled as well.

“The chief whips of political parties have agreed to postpone further meetings today [Tuesday] and to extend the National Assembly programme by additional two days,” ANC chief whip Stone Sizani’s office had said in a statement.

Sizani called on Parliament and Nehawu to try and end the impasse.

“We reaffirm our support for the right of workers to strike and to withdraw labour in demand of their labour rights. The disruption, however, regrettably harms MPs’ Constitutional right to perform the duties for which they were elected,” Sizani said.

“It is in this vein that we strongly appeal to the two parties in the dispute to do all they can to speedily resolve the outstanding differences – which we believe are not insurmountable.”

Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen said important House business like the adjusted budget should have been on the parliamentary programme earlier.

“The question is why has such important budget legislation …been left to so late in the year in the dying days of the annual session?”

Steenhuisen said the effect of the strike and the disruption by workers on MPs and on the parliamentary budget would be dire.

“MPs were told on Wednesday evening we’ll be finishing up. It is impacting on flights, etc and there’s also a cost involved in sittings,” he said.

“There’s also no guarantee that tomorrow [Wednesday] and Thursday’s sittings are actually going to proceed at all.”

Workers also disrupted committee meetings, forcing MPs to adjourn their business.

A senior parliamentary official said some committees reconvened, but others could not due to the ongoing industrial action.

Despite the threats of police action, the striking staff have vowed to return to Parliament on Wednesday morning to increase pressure on parliamentary management to heed their calls for higher performance bonuses.

Show's Stories