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Communications ministry leadership promises job security

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 18 Jan 2019
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: GCIS)
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: GCIS)

Although the proposed structure of the consolidated communications and telecommunications departments is still in the works, the department heads want to see the process go through without any job cuts.

Last year, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced the merger of the communications and the telecommunications and postal services ministries, marking the first outcome of the review process of the size and shape of the national executive and government departments.

Ramaphosa believes it is critical the size and shape of the state is suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources.

Following Ramaphosa's announcement, which saw minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams appointed to head up the single communications department, the ministry established working groups, made up of senior staff members from both departments, to facilitate the merger of the two departments.

As part of this process, Ndabeni-Abrahams and deputy minister Pinky Kekana have made it clear the future employment status of staff should not be jeopardised.

A statement from the government communications agency says: "The minister and the deputy minister have both committed to working closely with organised labour, entities under the portfolio and staff to ensure the transition is seamless and does not result in job losses."

The pronouncements have been welcomed by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the Public Servants Association of SA, and both say they are looking forward to being part of forming a new department.

Khaya Xaba, Nehawu's national spokesperson, is quoted as saying: "As Nehawu, we welcome the undertaking made by minister Ndabeni-Abrahams to work with organised labour. We are ready to support the exercise of combining the two departments. More importantly for us as a union, we were encouraged by the minister's commitment that there will no job losses in this process."

Duplicate personnel?

With the department heads committing to ensure no staff cutbacks, there will be the tough task of ensuring there is no duplication of duties.

For example, each department has one deputy-general (DG). However, when the communications department becomes a single ministry, there will be two DGs. The same can be said about the deputy DGs and chief director posts; there should only be one person for each position.

Marian Shinn, Democratic Alliance MP and telecoms and postal services shadow minister, says no one in government loses their job.

Shinn goes on to say the public service has been the government's major job creation project. "I would like the minister to use this opportunity to establish a department that is lean, efficient and sets an example of using technology to cost-effectively service its customer base - the public - with minimum job losses.

"[Ndabeni-Abrahams] needs to implement a system that identifies people whose skills are no longer necessary to the department so they can be re-skilled, re-deployed or found alternative employment. She could be a trailblazer in this regard."

The DOC has also indicated the working groups will embark on a skills matching exercise.

In the statement, it says two departments have less than three months to put a comprehensive master merger plan together, and a possible model that can be used by other departments that could also face a similar merger in the future.

Once the process is complete, Ndabeni-Abrahams will communicate the key outcomes and vision for the ministry, according to communication from the department.

Commenting on the time frame to merge the departments, Shinn says mergers take a huge amount of time and energy to implement. "The battle between vested interests of the various DGs, their portfolios and staffing needs will be highly contested. Managing change is as complex a task in government as it is in the private sector. Trade unions need to be involved to look after their members' interests. It is exceptionally ambitious to get this in place within months. I hope she has set realistic targets. The separation of the two departments took about two years to settle down."