Tag Archive | Essential Service Committee

Essential Services Committee remains underfunded

Essential Services agreements for crises….

meeting graphicThe Essential Services Committee (ESC), made up of part-time appointments and administered by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) but essentially separated from it in terms of the Labour Relations Act (LRA), told the Parliamentary Committee on Labour that it was vastly underfunded to undertake its work on a national scale.

To make his point, ESC’s chairperson, Adv Luvuyo Bono, said he had to pay from his own pocket a portion of his cell phone bill that related to ESC business and only had a totally out of date, second-hand laptop. It was clear throughout the meeting that ESC and CCMA were at odds with each other on financial issues.

CCMA funded but not controlled

The parent body, the CCMA, is the country’s recognised dispute resolution body established in terms of the LRA.   Like ESC, the CCMA is an independent body, does not belong to and is not controlled by any political party, trade union or business.   It “houses” the ESC and attends to the accounting but the work of the ESC is independent of and totally separated by law from the CCMA.

One independent body housing another independent function has clearly led to target plan and budgeting confusion, parliamentarians eventually concluded.

The ESC, as a separate function, conducts investigations and concludes agreements on those groups of employees who can be described as essential services, a critical role inasmuch that their determinations decide which services that, if interrupted, would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or any part of the population.

Constitutional rights always observed

No strikes or lock-outs are permitted in the case of promulgated essential services but in terms of not onlyfloods the Constitution but also the LRA, the issue of  “rights” still apply. ESC are obliged to refer disputes on events involving essential services and the “rights” involved to the CCMA for conciliation and arbitration.

Advocate Bono, the current chairperson of ESC, told Parliament that minimum service agreements (MSAs) were set for the defined essential services, detailing how many persons could go on strike if a strike during an event such as an emergency were to occur.

Out in the open

The work of the ESC has been going on for many years, MPs were told, but never before had the grouping been invited to present separately to Parliament, which invitation had been made by members of the opposition party. CCMA had merely reported on the financing of the ESC but not its work.

Adv BonoAdv. Bono told parliamentarians that, originally, essential services were defined as the police services, the defence force and parliamentary services but more recently  MSAs for municipal traffic services; municipal health; water services; some airport services; nursing including private nursing: blood transfusion and fire-fighting have been and more recently some private old age homes.

No regional coverage

Adv Bono said his entire function was run by only nine people with no regional outreach ability and there was a lack of understanding by the CCMA on what the ESC was and how it should be administered.  Employees, board members and himself were appointed by NEDLAC and were not full time public servants.

In answer to questions by MPs, Adv Bono admitted that of 278 municipalities ESC could only plan to deal with 75 of them in terms of MSAs required. He confirmed that it had been decided by the Minister not to include education. Electricity services were also not at ESC’s radar, he confirmed in answer to a question by MPs on load shedding, should there be an Eskom strike.

However, to vastly increase the coverage of the ESC and its work nationally was too much to expect with the current structure of ESC and its current budget.

Just tables, chairs, rent and part time fees.

Whilst Adv. Bono was clearly complaining that ESC was underfunded, he said his plans and targets were also constrained because help on administration services and office accommodation that came from CCMA were particularly limited. They were, however, separated by law in terms of the LRA and such a system was not really workable.

CCMA’s director, Nerine Kahn, told MPs that ESC’s budget had increased by 140% in the past three years and R3.8m was what the ESC had requested, which they got for what they said they could undertake.  In 2012, the budget was less than R1m. She could not comment on the work of the ESC, however, and its intentions.

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