Parliament delays process on Labour Relations Bill

Labour Relations Bill held up by the rule book….

In what might be just a technical delay on the passage of the Labour Relations Bill employed by the opposition party, Parliament now goes into winter recess without the last minute stand by ANC labour portfolio committee members on amendments to the Labour Relations Act being carried through into law at this point. For such an important debate in terms of national interest, it was firstly an embarrassment to the majority party but secondly a victory for parliamentary procedure and the application of due parliamentary process.

A late sitting on the last day of this session of Parliament, the second of 2013, there were insufficient MPs present to reach a quorum of 201 members voting, the ANC alliance having 266 votes available.    However, no more than 120 of the ANC arrived on the second occasions when the vote was put to the house, presumably having already left Cape Town, thus allowing opposition DA members to absent themselves to maintain a number lesser than the quorum and thus frustrate the Bill’s passage.

Clearly the lack ANC party discipline is evident, giving further rise to the argument that the ANC Chief Whip’s position may be under debate. The Bill now goes forward to the next session and will referred back to the portfolio committee on labour in the next session  for re-submission.

Points of argument

One of the key elements originally included in the Labour Relations Amendment Bill was the Nedlac-agreed principle, backed by the department of labour, that compulsory strike balloting procedures should be introduced. This was not accepted by the portfolio committee, chaired by ANC MP Mamagase Nchabeleng.

The opposition have also voted for but were over-ruled on sections proposed that allow unions and employers to have to debate on thresholds of representation for unions to gain a presence in a specific workplace or sector; the repeal of the section allowing for closed-shop agreements; and amendments to the section that allow for the extension of bargaining council agreements to parties that were not part of the bargaining process.

Looking back on 2013 so far

From an overall parliamentary viewpoint, the budget voting procedure having been attended to by President Zuma in the National Assembly and all 27 government departments, the various state owned utilities and financial development bodies have reported on their progress to Parliament on the third and final quarters of the last financial year.
In actual fact they are now busy spending the current financial year’s money and Parliament in the next session, starting mid-winter, will see progress towards the medium term budget review and the consequent oversight on the 2013/4 spend to date, with progress towards earlier stated targets.

Watching how the money goes

This is where the department of performance monitoring and evaluation under Collins Chabane of the President’s Office will be able to indicate more clearly to Parliament, charged with the task of oversight, how things are going. At this stage matters will only be made slightly easier for them with the very small amount of comparative figures to date since they took up office.

What did become evident during this last monitored session of Parliament was how massive the public service has become in South Africa and how it has grown.   In fact some economists give the opinion that any growth in the country is purely reflected by the fact that the public service in South Africa has grown in similar proportion and possibly by the same amount.

Presidential Review now to hand on SOE’s

The quantity of regulatory boards were hardly able to find reporting time in the parliamentary meeting schedule and the fact that the Presidential Review Committee on state owned entities has recommended that a further proposed council be structured so all SOEs are placed under one umbrella, thus creating one more entity to fund with salaries, is worrisome.

But the word “bloated” is too easy to use. Perhaps in these difficult times, as was found in China, it may be good to provide additional jobs and provide food in many homes in tough times but the problem for South Africa remains work ethic and performance, or translated into business terms – getting value for money.

Whilst Collins Chabane may be able to evaluate whole departments against targets set and call out numbers to record performance, the record of teachers not in their classrooms teaching and policeman not in the street policing, is depressing.

Jobs improvement the key

However, perhaps it is too early to make the call that things are not working. With so many global uncertainties working against South Africa and with so many infrastructure spend programmes in place and only beginning, the winter doom and gloom story is perhaps an easily spread infection.

However, without doubt it is the year in which it will become evident if South Africa has turned the corner on the jobs issue and whether its big spending programmes can be both handled and managed properly. The opposition maintain that with the introduction of the new Labour Relations Act amendments, the jobs situation will not improve.

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