Teaching labour law to minister – Law 101

Michael Bagraim writes that over and above the failure of the UIF and the Compensation Fund the minister is facing enormous trouble with his senior staff, who don’t seem to be doing anything properly.

Michael Bagraim writes that over and above the failure of the UIF and the Compensation Fund the minister is facing enormous trouble with his senior staff, who don’t seem to be doing anything properly.

Published Dec 24, 2023


The Minister of Employment and Labour is facing a crisis with his senior management and staff.

By now it is well known to the public that both the biggest entities under the Department of Labour, namely the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the Workmen’s Compensation Fund, missed their audit and were unable to give proper information to the auditor-general.

Both of these entities have failed in the past and both these entities are not servicing the public at all. Over and above the failure of the UIF and the Compensation Fund the minister is facing enormous trouble with his senior staff, who don’t seem to be doing anything properly.

It must be remembered that the commissioner of the UIF was suspended for months during Covid. All sorts of maladministration and allegations of fraud were raised. It does appear that there was some investigation.

We still don’t have the outcome of that investigation, and after the Covid restrictions, the commissioner was brought back to work. After that, an enormous amount of fraud was discovered concerning the payment of the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) emergency payments that took place.

Some senior staff have been prosecuted and others dismissed. It seems that no action was taken against the Commissioner for that enormous failure over the Ters payments.

Fast-forward to the now notorious R5 billion purported investment into a brand-new company to create jobs.

This debacle led to the resignation of the director-general of the Department of Employment and Labour.

When asked what the minister had done about this, the minister responded that the director-general resigned and therefore he couldn’t take any action against him. Well, it is important to point out some rudimentary laws to the minister.

First, when an employee resigns, which admittedly is a unilateral action, the minister does not need to accept this resignation during the notice period that the senior employee has to serve pending his resignation.

We have not been given a copy of the director-general’s letter of appointment and contract of employment, nor has anyone shared with the public the terms and conditions of the resignation.

Initially when I asked the minister for the copy of the resignation I was completely ignored. Before the resignation became public I was told by the portfolio committee of employment and labour in Parliament that the director-general was off sick. This was untrue as we found out a day later from the national press that the director-general had resigned.

It must be pointed out to the minister that this resignation did not have to be accepted as the director-general can be compelled to work out his notice. During this notice period, an employer is competent to run a disciplinary enquiry to get to the bottom of what transpired over the R5bn debacle.

This debacle is still subject to inquiries and allegations. Furthermore, the minister has purportedly issued a summons against the director of the brand-new company that was to be the lucky recipient of a R5bn investment. This summons does not make any of the issues mentioned above sub judice.

The issues that I raise herein are common and simple labour law. The ministry needs to be able to explore and cross-examine all the issues. The director-general was a signatory to the agreement which would have handed over the R5bn. The ministry and the public need to know exactly what has transpired and what could have led to a massive heist.

Over and above all of this, the other signatory to the heist seems to have been the commissioner for the UIF. This commissioner, the same one who was suspended during Covid-19, is still in his position and is ostensibly able to give a lot of information to both a disciplinary inquiry and a possible court case.

The minister also told the public that he was suing the director of the company that was about to receive the ill-gotten gains from the UIF. A summons seems to have been issued on an urgent basis. It’s important for the minister to understand, and his lawyers, that urgency needs to be proved.

A court will not sit as a matter of urgency just because the minister says its urgent. The minister knew about this “deal” about nine months before he took any action. This means that even if there are allegations against the minister about him receiving a bribe, this issue is not urgent and can be heard in good time by the high court. It is, however, important for the minister to share with the public all the papers filed in the high court.

The minister is a public figure and allegations of him receiving a bribe must be properly aired in the public. Again, it is trite law to say that a public figure must be able to share with the public his defence to these allegations.

It is for the public to at least hear the allegations and the defence so as to reassure the public that their Minister of Employment and Labour is possibly not guilty of the allegations of taking a bribe. If the minister wants to hide his answers to these allegations it probably would be appropriate for the executive to suspend the minister as well, pending the outcome of these very serious allegations against him.

* Michael Bagraim.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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