A group of specialist publishers are outraged by the lack of urgency on the part of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) in dealing with a complaint about the South African Post Office (Sapo), calling it “unacceptable behaviour”. The publishers say Icasa is “supposed to deal with such complaints expeditiously and efficiently” and accused the authority of dragging out the process due to the “the recalcitrance of SAPO and the apparent leniency and indulgences being granted by ICASA to its licensee”.
EE Publishers’ Chris Yelland, spokesman for the Concerned Group of Specialist Magazine Publishers, said it has been eight months since the formal complaint was lodged in December 2014. The publishers want Icasa to review the failure of the Post Office to meet its licence conditions “over an extended period” and to take into account “the significant financial and other damage to the magazine publishing industry” and sanction the Post Office accordingly.
The matter was finally heard by the Icasa Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC) on 2 July 2015. Yelland said the Post Office failed to deal with the merits of the complaints against them, and that its legal team appeared “demoralised, disorientated and directionless, and appeared not to have been properly briefed” by their client. They said strikes at the Post Office had “made due performance of its license conditions impossible” an argument rejected by the publishers whose lawyers pointed out that the “argument of impossibility (or force majeure) does not and cannot apply when the cause of the claimed impossibility is self-inflicted”.
The complainants said ongoing management problems at SAPO were highlighted by the removal of the entire previous board of directors; an investigation into alleged corruption at Sapo at the direction of President Jacob Zuma and its severe financial problems. They said the fact that National Treasury had placed the Post Office under administration and that there were “ongoing” problems paying staff salaries on time pointed to the dysfunctional running of the state-owned entity. The publisher pointed out that even the cash-strapped SAA had refused to carry Sapo mail “due to non-payment”.
Icasa’s CCC said it would rule on the complaint by 17 July 2015, a month ago. (The Icasa Act gives a 90-day window from the conclusion of a hearing.) But a few days earlier, the CCC said it had given the Post Office more time to respond to the complaints. It said the parameters for a restricted response would be provided to SAPO by 20 July 2015. This didn’t happen. Only on 4 August did the CCC provide the parameters for Sapo’s responsing affidavit, giving a deadline of 3 September.
“The CCC indicated that Sapo’s response need not deal with alleged non-deliveries before the strike of 2014, nor the amounts of the damages suffered by the complainants. SAPO is however required to provide a detailed explanation as to why it did not make use of alternative, if need be commercial, facilities to ensure delivery of post during the 2014 strike,” the complainants said in a statement.
The CCC said the Post Office response need not deal with alleged non-deliveries before the strike of 2014, nor the amounts of the damages suffered by the complainants but it would be required to “provide a detailed explanation as to why it did not make use of alternative, if need be commercial, facilities to ensure delivery of post during the 2014 strike”. The complainants will have until 16 September to respond. The CCC has set down 5 November for a further hearing before it delivers its final findings.
“The complainants say that the delays, tone and contents of Sapo’s arguments are in keeping with the utter disregard that SAPO has shown for the mechanism by which SAPO is meant to be held to account by its regulator, Icasa,” Yelland said, adding that this was “not an approach that should ever be taken by a state-owned entity such as Sapo”.
He said they were considering a possible class action for damages sustained by them resulting from the failure of the Post Office to meet its license conditions and statutory obligations but would follow all other avenues of due process first.
A report by Prof. David Dickinson, Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Fighting their own battles: The Mabarete and the End of Labour Broking in the South African Post Office, on the background and causes of the strike actions showed Sapo’s labour problems were a direct result of “management neglect over an extended period”. It also referred to Sapo’s “dirty secret” of large-scale use of temporary labour on a permanent basis (through labour brokers) in breach of labour relations legislation, which resulted in grossly unfair and discriminatory labour practices.
Has ongoing labour unrest at the South African Post Office impacted on your business? How are you dealing with it? Tweet us @MediaTMO #SAPOwoes
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