THE strike by parliamentary workers turned nasty at midday on Wednesday when riot police used stun grenades and tear gas to move the protesters from the steps of the National Council of Provinces.
Earlier, striking parliamentary workers invaded a meeting of Parliament’s police committee, which led to proceedings being abandoned and an alternative venue being sought.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) is into the third day of an unprotected strike and is locked in talks with parliamentary management over the payment of performance bonuses and other working conditions.
The police committee was discussing its report on the behaviour of senior police management in issuing a statement in August expressing full support for embattled (now suspended) national police commissioner Riah Phiyega.
The committee is poised to find that the board of commissioners strayed into the political domain and illegally attempted to influence President Jacob Zuma’s actions around Gen Phiyega in the wake of the damning findings of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry.
The commission found that Gen Phiyega was not honest in the probe of the shooting of 34 miners at Marikana and recommended that Mr Zuma investigate her fitness to hold office.
The small business development portfolio committee was also forced to stop proceedings due to disruptions by striking Nehawu members.
The committee’s chairwoman, Ruth Bhengu, was receiving the second-quarter report from the Department of Small Business Development and its entities when parliamentary staff stormed the committee room in the National Council of Provinces.
At the start of the small business committee meeting Ms Bhengu said she was determined that the business of her committee would continue, despite the strike, which is now in its third day.
“You are aware that there is an industrial action taking place and that means that there is no support staff for certain functions. We have no technicians, no administrative assistants, no catering and no general support staff. Management is engaging with staff on industrial action but we shall continue with our items,” Ms Bhengu said.
However, staff later entered the committee room in droves and brought the meeting to a halt. Ms Bhengu pleaded with the striking staff to allow the committee to continue while their leaders continued negotiating with Parliament’s management.
“Our understanding is that the management of Parliament is engaging with the staff. What I ask is that we talk to each other properly with respect. I am the chairperson of the portfolio committee and I am speaking to you from that perspective. You have leaders that can talk to us,” Ms Bhengu said.
But the staff members were not having it. They said management did not negotiate with staff members in good faith.
“Because you respect us can we please continue with our programme. You have your platform to communicate politically, but we are continuing our struggle and humbly request that every member leaves the committee room,” one striking staff member said.
Nehawu is demanding that Parliament implement agreements including a review of its retirement scheme, changes to performance bonus agreements, compulsory leave and changes to medical aid schemes. Striking workers also bemoaned the new vetting system for staff members.