Mbabane-It never rains but pours at the National Agricultural and Marketing Board (NamBoard) as more startling revelations erupt following the suspension and termination of the contract of the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Siphephiso Dlamini.
Employees at the state owned entity who are affiliated to the Swaziland Agricultural and Marketing Board (SAPWU) are concerned that the outgoing CEO leaves the organisation without implementing a salary review process that was initiated in 2017.
The salary exercise that has been nearly five years in the making was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture in March 2, 2020.
Narrating their struggles at the entity, *Dorah Sithole says “in 2016 it was observed that certain staff members were being given salary increments while others were not being remunerated satisfactorily. This state of affairs resulted in disgruntled employees suggesting that there should be a salary review considering that the last such exercise had been conducted in 2008.
*Not her real name
After a series of consultative meetings between all stakeholders, the board approved the salary review process. It was determined that the salary review process should start in April 2017, at the start of the 2017/18 financial year.
It so happened that the Cost Of Living Adjustments (COLA) for that year were at 6.8%. However, union members were of the view that the 6.8% would not make any difference to their salaries especially considering that the last review was done in 2008. SAPWU members decided to halt the implementation of the CoLA adjustment of 6.8% pending the finalization of the salary review exercise that was supposed to take three months.
It so transpired that what was supposed to take three months eventually took eighteen months. During the eighteen month period, the union felt that management was not transparent. They felt left out and they could not determine what the delay was. The SAPWU approached the Conciliation Mediation Arbitration Commission (CMAC) with their concern and on January 22, 2018, the employer representative who was the Human Resources Officer, committed to having the salary review report completed on February 16, 2018. The 6.8% CoLA would also be factored into the salary review.
However this did not happen. Neither the CoLA nor the expected salary review report with its expected salary increment was implemented.
On the strength of the Dispute Agreement that had been signed with CMAC on January 22, 2018, the matter was taken to the Industrial Court. In March 2018 an order of the court was granted in favour of the union instructing that NamBoard issue the salary review report to the employees and also implement its findings.
In September 2018, the consultants who had been hired by NamBoard to undertake the whole review process, Price Water House Coopers announced that they were going to hand over the salary review report to NamBoard and the union. Dorah Sithole says “PWC merely presented a summary of the report in Power Point form and no tangible report was actually delivered. When asked where the actual report was the PWC consultant making the presentation retorted that she doesn’t owe us an explanation because we do not sign her pay check.”
By April 2019, the union came to the realization that nothing was being done to adequately address their situation since the granting of the industrial court order. They drafted a letter to the organizations lawyers requesting an explanation as to why the court order had not been implemented. However, a satisfactory response was not forthcoming.
The SAPWU members decided to subpoena the Managing Partner at PWC, Theo Masson and he was expected to appear before the court on October 3, 2019. In response Masson sent an extract of the salary review report to SAPWU’s attorneys. Sithole says “the report had many loopholes, missing data and it was incomplete. It was not the report that the PWC was mandated to do. The summarized report was titled Unionized Employees Report as opposed to NamBoard Employees Report.”
On October 3, 2019, NamBoard’s SAPWU employees again appeared before the industrial court and explained their concerns. Judge Sifiso Sibandze then ruled that SAPWU should return to the negotiation table with the management of the organization.
According to Sithole “during one of SAPWU’s meetings with NamBoard as instructed by Judge Sibandze, an employer representative let it slip that the unionized employees were not mean’t to receive the salary review document as it was confidential and was in the care of the Ministry of Agriculture and still subject to approval.”
In March 2, 2020 the Ministry of Agriculture wrote a letter to NamBoard informing them that the salary review report had been approved and that NamBoard should go ahead with its implementation. The letter is said to have only reached the members of SAPWU on July 2, 2020. Subsequent to this, SAPWU’s attorney Thulani Maseko wrote a letter to NamBoard’s attorney, Derrick Jele from Robinson Bertram Attorney’s. He stated that the matter needed to be resolved and the salary review report implemented.
Jele responded as follows:
- My client has received cabinet’s approval for the salary review.
- In terms of the PEU Act, my client then wrote to the line Ministry and PEU seeking permission to pay the recommended increase over a year instead of the proposed two years.
- Currently my client does not have a Board in place and wanted to avoid a situation that occurred at MVA where the management was accused of having effected increases without the relevant approvals.
- The approval from the line Ministry has not been forthcoming and as a result my client met yours on July 2, 2020 where they were informed of the cabinet approval and that my client is still awaiting approval from the line Ministry.
- It remains my client’s commitment to address this issue in line with the recognition agreement subject to strict compliance with the relevant mandatory approvals from the principals of my client.
Please impress upon your client to be patient with the process, the delay is beyond my client. Eventually there will be payment within a year and not the proposed three years by my client.
Given their right to respond, the spokesperson at NamBoard, Melusi Dlamini said “we will need to investigate the veracity of the report first as we are all new in the executive. Only then can we be in a position to respond informatively. Kindly allow us to reserve our comments for now.”
The matter between the NamBoard management and its unionized members still rages on almost five years after the salary review report saga was first initiated. Clearly there is a case of smoke and mirrors’ being played that includes the disappearance of court documents. These matters arising from the NamBoard continue to draw much public scrutiny and alarm and it is with abated breath that their outcomes are being awaited.