Fight breaks out in parliament over minimum wage

16 May 2018 - 18:53 By Matthew Savides

A fight broke out in parliament on Wednesday during a Labour Portfolio Committee meeting to discuss‚ in detail‚ the National Minimum Wage Bill.

The committee chair‚ Sharome van Schalkwyk‚ described the incident as “unfortunate” and said it was not an indication of how South Africans should resolve differences of opinion.

The committee blamed members of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) for the disruption - but the union put the blame on parliamentary security.

“The Portfolio Committee on Labour is disappointed with the conduct of alleged Saftu activists who sought to disrupt a committee meeting meant to discuss the National Minimum Wage Bill‚ clause by clause‚” Van Schalkwyk said.

“The committee will not be distracted and derailed in trying to improve the conditions many of our poor working South Africans find themselves in. The processes on the national minimum wage are unfolding‚ and this drastic and chaotic stance is not warranted.”

A video sent to TimesLIVE by a parliamentary staff member shows a violent fight breaking out in Committee Room 1. A woman can be head screaming “my baby”‚ seemingly while she is being physically removed from the room. Earlier in the video‚ an unknown man swings as unidentifiable object during the scuffle. Punches also appear to be thrown.

Van Schalkwyk said a handful of activists “donning Saftu regalia” had disrupted the meeting. She said in a statement that the committee accepted that activists had a right to protest‚ “but that right should not seek to interfere with the work of parliament‚ and the rights of other persons”.

Saftu‚ however‚ told a different story‚ saying that 15 of its leaders were “forcefully evicted” from the meeting.

The union said a letter had been sent a day earlier‚ complaining that‚ among other things‚ its presentation on the Bill was completely ignored‚ and that the Bill “undermines what we believe is a constitutional prerequisite to have meaningful and adequate consultations with the public in particular the stakeholders”.

“It transpired that the chairperson of the committee did not deem it necessary for the letter from Saftu to be tabled to the committee for consideration but intended to proceed notwithstanding what would have amounted to a seriously flawed public participation process in which most of the submissions made by a large number of organisations has been ignored.

“We refused to leave the committee meeting until our letter was tabled to the portfolio committee for consideration and a decision to be made thereon. In response, the chairperson called on the parliamentary services security services to remove us from the venue‚” the union said in a statement.

It said its demonstration had been peaceful - “[but] we were met with a forceful security who had no regard for our rights to peaceful demonstration”.

“They proceed to forcefully remove us through assaulting us. In the process, one of our female leaders was assaulted and dragged out of the venue with no regard to her right to dignity. Is this the new dawn that we are being told by our ANC government that any protest or attempts to hold them accountable would be met with force and a trampling of our constitutional rights?

“We strongly condemn the actions of the security forces of parliament who on the direction of the chairperson of the portfolio committee‚ Ms Sharome van Schalkwyk, and the deputy minister‚ iNkosi Sango Patekile Holomisa‚ proceeded with the assault and forceful eviction of our leadership. These assaults and evictions took place in full view of these two who did nothing to ensure that our leadership not be assaulted in the removals‚” the statement said. 

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