New union to represent social workers

South African Social Services Union members during the demonstration in Cape Town.

The newly established South African Social Services Union (SASSU) in the Western Cape will represent the rights of social workers in the province, says its president, AJ van Rooy-Brand, who worked as a social worker for 16 years and has first-hand experience of the challenges they face.

Mr Van Rooy-Brandt says the process to establish the union, which is in the process of registering, began in Gauteng in 2011 and was later restarted in 2013 in Mpumalanga, but never materialised.

“In March, I met up with the previous committee members in the province, who were part of the process to have the union established in 2011 and 2013. We decided to try and get this union off the ground,” he said.

On Tuesday June 14 about 60 members of SASSU and the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) picketed at the offices of provincial Social Development MEC Albert Fritz. They tried to hand over a memorandum, but the MEC refused to accept it, saying he did not recognise the union as it was not registered.The demonstration was in response to Mr Fritz’s refusal to grant permission for officials to leave their posts to join an event held by the Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini, in Beaufort West, earlier this year.

In response to the demonstration by SASSU, Mr Fritz said the position of his department remained unchanged.

“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. Any requests for officials to assist with ‘roadshows’ or ‘imbizos’ from the national ministry must be communicated via the provincial office of the MEC, as is protocol.

“It is unfair on the vulnerable segments of our society to be deprived of key Department of Social Development services, whilst officials opt to take time off work for quasi-political events hosted by national, neither will we begin to do so, even if requested by party-political ‘unionists’.”

Mr Van Rooy-Brandt says Section 23 of the Constitution makes provision for any person or group to form a union and to hold demonstrations. The union met on Saturday June 25 in Langebaan to draft its constitution and adopt its membership application, which will now be circulated to members.

“We are currently judging our members based on Facebook figures, which stands at 600. Once the forms are circulated then we will have an accurate membership figure,” he said.

Mr Van Rooy-Brandt said the union would deal with a range of issues facing social service professionals.

“There are many issues that need to be addressed, which include the salaries of these workers, danger allowance, the safety of workers on call-outs and the conditions they have to work under.

“Social service professionals across the spectrum deal with society’s vulnerable people on a daily , but do not get the recognition they deserve. And this is evident by looking at their salaries and working conditions.”

When asked further questions about the union, Mr Fritz’s spokesman Sihle Ngobese reiterated that the union was not recognised by the department and that they would not entertain any further questions.