Parliament in court over its high paid bouncers

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A protracted case to be heard by the Labour Court reveals that Parliament now requires its “Chamber Support Officers” (CSOs) to be skilled in crowd control and public order policing. This is an entirely new role for the Parliamentary Protection Service (PPS). It confirms that the South African Police Service (SAPS) is now expected to perform an “assertive” and “proactive” role in the legislature.

Not only does this introduce a new policing style in the institution which implies a significant shift in the culture of the “People’s Parliament”, but it also leaves long-serving parliamentary protection officers feeling marginalised and discriminated against.

In its court papers, Parliament has stated that it requires its CSOs to be sourced from SAPS so that they are able to “undertake physical intervention” when necessary. In this sense, they perform a different role to Parliament’s “general protection officers” who are required to act “passively” in the House or on off-precinct duties.

A total of 72 applicants represented by Bagraim attorneys, all members of the PPS including some who have served Parliament for up to 25 years, lodged a complaint with the Labour Court arguing that they earn less and work longer hours than the recently appointed CSOs, who have no experience of Parliament at all.

They describe the disparity in earnings between the old and new protection staff as “capricious” and “arbitrary” wage discrimination. The long-standing protection officers are claiming that in terms of the Employment Equity Act, a difference in terms and conditions of employment between employees doing the same or substantially the same work amounts to unfair discrimination.

Parliament, however, has said in its response that its CSOs must be able to deal with high intensity security situations and emergencies and be able to “effectively handle disruptions in the House (including the safe removal of Members)”.

They also need to be physically fit, remain calm “in pressure situations” and be able to work long hours.

According to Parliament’s argument, the CSOs, all of whom are former members of SAPS, introduce three new functions to the PPS. Firstly, they “undertake physical intervention with and the removal of unruly Members from the House”. Secondly, they play an “active security role” when accompanying parliamentary staff and Members to off-site parliamentary events. Thirdly, they provide the kind of support to Committees, on- or off-precinct, that used to be the duty of SAPS.

This is significant because the role of PPS has always been the “protection of life, property and specified information” in Parliament through the provision of safety and security support, control of entry and exit from the Chamber, and emergency preparedness, including at key events. The introduction of the so-called CSOs implies that Parliament has added a new militarism to it parliamentary protection function.

Members of the PPS were not the only ones who found themselves unprepared and taken by surprise when in 2014 vociferous EFF Members of Parliament began disregarding the instructions of the Presiding Officer and parliamentary protocol by disrupting the House proceedings. Yet it appears they are now suffering the consequences.

Parliament’s response to finding itself no longer in control of the National Assembly was to bolster its security forces. A resolution was passed in July 2015 to enhance the capacity of PPS. According to the court papers, PPS staff was told at the time that to expedite this process, phase one would involve the appointment of SAPS members as “PPS did not have the necessary capabilities.”

It was not made clear what these “necessary capabilities” were and Parliament immediately dispensed with its comprehensive existing HR procedures. Instead, it hand-picked 37 appointees from SAPS, offered them significantly higher salaries and within weeks effectively had in place a new “elite” unit.

With their new title of CSOs, but known colloquially as bouncers, they were soon seen in action, clearing the house within minutes of a ruling from the chair and with a brutal style of policing reminiscent of a time that many had hoped had long passed. For this they earned annual salaries of up to R150,000 more than the long-serving team of parliamentary protection service officials.

A total of 66 new positions were created, of which 37 were first filled from the ranks of SAPS.

In papers before the court, claims of nepotism have been directed at former policeman Deon van der Spuy, the head of the PPS, who is said to have head-hunted his erstwhile colleagues from SAPS.

Head-hunting is not new to Parliament, and has become more common of late. In this case it was initiated by the Secretary to Parliament. It was argued by Parliament that the applicants needed to be selected from the ranks of SAPS.

The remaining 29 posts were earmarked for internal staff, who would be required to undergo a process of training and mentoring, presumably to gain sufficient skills in crowd control as well as the physical strength and the demands required to deal with the kind of riotous behaviour that could emerge in the House.

This has also been challenged by the existing PPS staff, 65 of whom have applied for the 29 vacant posts. They say many of them come from a background in SAPS anyway.

Quite unlike the rapid CSO appointments, the process of filling the remaining posts has so far been more typical of Parliament. It began in August 2015 and towards the end of 2015 was suspended, in part due to strike action by parliamentary staff, but apparently also due to financial constraints.

This does raise the question: did such financial constraints apply when the 37 SAPS appointees were taken on by Parliament, at salaries above those budgeted for all existing PPS officers except for one Controller.

In taking their case to the Labour Court, the applicants state: “The appointed CSOs who have far less service and experiences [than that of the applicants] and perform only part of the functions of the job description of a Protection Officer are earning substantially higher salaries than that earned by the applicants.”

The result has been tension and unhappiness within the PPS, which is now divided between recently appointed members of SAPS and long-standing protection officers who say they are now being excluded by their manager from functions they used to perform. This amounts to unilateral changes to their job descriptions.

In their court papers they declare that their “human dignity is severely tarnished by these baseless, unfair and unreasonable wage disparities and they [are being] discriminated against based on their longer years of experience”.

They have said from the start that they want to be remunerated and provided the same terms and conditions of employment as the newcomers. Alternatively, they are asking for compensation for being discriminated against. This they want applied retrospectively to the date of the bouncers’ appointments.

Produced for GroundUp News by Notes from the House.

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