Unions picket Western Cape MEC for social development
Social workers want Albert Fritz to apologise or resign
On Tuesday, about 40 members of the South African Social Services Union (SASSU) and the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) picketed the Western Cape Department of Social Development, complaining of unfair treatment, improper labour practices, ethical violations, and mismanagement on the part of MEC for Social Development Albert Fritz.
SASSU spokesperson Andre Lewaks said the union was largely composed of Western Cape department social workers. Employees briefly left their jobs, during a lunch break, to picket across the street from their office. Many held placards asking for an apology from Fritz or his resignation.
NEHAWU representatives also distributed handbills calling for worker unity and rights. For 40 minutes, the crowd energetically chanted for Fritz to answer their concerns. Other than a watchful police officer in the building, there was no sign of a response from the department.
The dissatisfaction with Fritz stems from a Cape Times article on 16 May that indicated that the minister had threatened to charge employees with insubordination if they attended a national government event in Beaufort West with national Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini.
In an email to Robert MacDonald, the head of social development, Fritz wrote, ‘I [sic] view is, our staff is suppose to deliver services at our local and regional offices. So it’s a no from me!! Also remind any staff members who participate in this event will be charged for insubordination!!!!’
Many protesters claim that the threats made by Fritz are just the latest example of his lack of understanding for their profession. Lewaks said there had been numerous instructions barring the department’s social workers from working with the national department.
“The actions of the minister to take action against us for working with the national department goes against the constitutional ideals and the three spheres of government. Not letting us work for the betterment of our clients goes against our ethical code. You wouldn’t tell a doctor what medication he should prescribe to his patients and the same applies for social workers. He is using us as a political tool.”
Lewaks also claimed that safety for social workers had deteriorated under Fritz’s leadership. In many cases, he says, social workers were sent to dangerous areas with no official protection, and were told to use a “buddy system” by the department. Social workers in dangerous areas were not granted any form of “danger allowance” for the risks they might face.
SASSU wants the minister to issue an apology, improve safety, guarantee a danger allowance, and establish a commission of inquiry to investigate labour conditions. If that did not happen within 30 days, workers would strike, they said.
In the meantime, NEHAWU says it is planning protests at other Western Cape offices.
In a press release, the department responded to the protest, saying it “refuses to be drawn into a political game with aspirant fringe politicians, masquerading as union-bosses”.
It stated that SASSU was not recognised by or represented within the department, and of the department’s 970 staff social workers “no more than a handful of people” had gathered to picket.
The department claimed that the threat of charging people with insubordination for attending the national government event was justified as “all officials within this department are to be at their posts, on time, delivering services to residents of the Western Cape as they are mandated to’”. In this case, the social workers had not followed the necessary protocol to request time off for the event.
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