Workers take IEC to task over restructuring

Workers take IEC to task over restructuring

MASERU-AT least 132 employees of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) have filed an urgent application in the High Court to nullify a new formulated organisational structure they say is discriminatory.
They argue the new organisational structure, which will impact on their salaries, is a recipe for legal confusion and therefore want it nullified.

The workers also asked the court to interdict any appointments to newly created positions envisaged under the new structure pending finalisation of the case.
They want the court to urgently inquire, probe into, examine and analyse the precise nature, circumstances and setting of the conclusions that form the bedrock of the new organizational structure.

Appropriate measures should also be taken to ensure their constitutional rights are not impeded, they say.
The workers also complain that the IEC management did not consult with them when they drew the new organisational structure despite that it will directly affect their jobs as well as their remuneration.

Their other complaint is that they have not been paid their new salaries in harmony with the organisational structure implemented after their consultation in 2013.
Justifying the urgency of the application, their lawyer Advocate Chris Lephuthing said the workers are on permanent and pensionable employment “such that their right to salaries and appurtenances of office are constitutionally protected by section 17(1) as property”.

Lephuthing argued that the IEC has approved the organisational structure “by the management team whose criteria and net effect is to discriminate against” the employees.
He also said the newly formulated organisational structure “undermines their ability to properly discharge their responsibilities by creating new positions while at the same time maintaining their status quo, appointing officials and their colleagues similarly graded to lucrative new positions whose job descriptions, nature and scope of their employment are not contemplated in the National Elections Act”.

He said the IEC had failed to justify the procedure it adopted to come up with the new organisational structure without consulting the employees.
“The (employees) are exposed to uncertainty as the new structure may be operationalised any time from now under the controversial circumstances where the validity thereof or its powers remain a private matter of the management,” Lephuthing said in the court papers.

“This Honourable Court is approached to authoritatively determine the unconstitutionality of the conduct or exercise of power by the management of the (IEC) in approving the structure vis-a-vis the interpretation of a provision of the constitution as to the right to a fair hearing.”

In an affidavit filed in court, one of the aggrieved workers, Matsoso Ntšihlele, said in February 2008 he was employed as an elections assistant until April 2013 when he was promoted to the position of constituency electoral officer.
This was after a certain consultant seconded by the UNDP, Dr Griffith Zabala, came up with the organisational structure that was adopted across the board.

“I must quite frankly indicate that the professional services of Dr Zabala for restructuring IEC were facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme and this was a legitimate assignment,” Ntšihlele said.]
“The structure of Dr Zabala came as a result of an intervention in the affairs of the operations of IEC to resolve the concerns we raised as employees in different categories of IEC,” he said.

“His structure had strong inbuilt checks and balances as a result of thorough consultations with us and the resultant consideration of our inputs into the whole scheme of things,” he said.
“I must state that there is a gazette authorising staff transitional arrangement.”

“We were consulted, we ventilated our views, took part in the deliberations which culminated in the structure being finalised, approved by (IEC) pursuant to its powers to employ staff on terms and conditions of employment it deems fit.”
Ntšihlele said they were accordingly informed of their new appointments which were dispatched to the relevant office for implementation and in the meantime “we continued to work under the structure” that was already there when Dr Zabala was engaged.

He said Dr Zabala addressed them as workers and told them that the restructuring of the organisation such as the IEC “required great introspection, circumspection, full consultation, advice, wisdom, and magnanimity from all stakeholders”.
Ntšihlele said at the time the structure suggested by Dr Zabala was approved, the Director of Elections was Mphasa Mokhochane and “he accordingly endorsed our employment into promoted positions”.

When the IEC management changed with Dr Letholetseng Ntsike at the helm, she “stalled the operationalisation of the Zabala structure to such an extent that it deprived us of salaries due to us pursuant to our letters of appointment”.
“The standing position is that they decided not to pay us due salaries without consulting with us individually and as collective workforce.”

Ntšihlele told the court that they were informally told by the district managers “that there is a new structure that supersedes the structure of Dr Zabala”.
“In their understanding the position they had taken is irreversible,” he said.

He said they engaged Dr Ntsike in dialogue through a series of letters but she never responded to their grievances.
“We explored the diplomatic ways to address the matter because IEC as an institution stands to suffer in its image and integrity each time an accusation of incompetence and inept handling of the sensitive matters is made about its management and administration,” he said.

“The mainstay of our complaint was that we were never consulted about the new organisational structure and that the new structure was a breeding ground for disorder in the commission for reasons we identified.”

Senate Sekotlo

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