The Department of Community Safety and Liaison in KwaZulu-Natal will terminate contracts of volunteers working in the province's Volunteer Crime Prevention Programme in March next year. This is according to a statement by the department after the volunteers' recent meeting with MEC Mxolisi Kaunda.
Last week Thursday about 150 community safety volunteers from several districts in KwaZulu-Natal marched to their department's head office in Pietermaritzburg demanding that they be permanently employed.
The volunteers receive a stipend for their work. Their job, in the words of a volunteer, is "to report crime in our areas".
On Tuesday Kaunda met with the volunteers' team leaders in Chesterville, Durban, to respond to their demands.
"The department is kicking us out," said a male volunteer who asked not to be named.
"After working for the department for 11 years, the MEC told us our contracts are ending next March ... We felt threatened by Kaunda. He was not engaging with us, instead he was being bossy. We have been told that 720 will be moved to Fidelity Security Group. They have decided to move us to be security guards. In the memorandum, we stated that they (must) allow us opportunities within the department. Moving us to Fidelity Group is their way of getting rid of us," he said.
The volunteer said they were not given a chance to raise objections during the meeting.
"It was 187 of us in the meeting. Only ten of us were allowed to ask questions. The department is being unfair. Our stipend has been cut from R 2,100 to R1,600. As volunteers, we are willing to fight this. If it means we march to the premier's office, we will do that," he said.
The department, in a statement issued by Mluleki Mntungwa, said it had decided to align the volunteer programme with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Code of Good Practise for employment conditions for employees in the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). This means that volunteers should not be in service for more than two years.
Mntungwa said due to budgetary constraints, the department had started negotiations with volunteers who have been part of the programme for more than two years to find an amicable way to exit the programme by the end of March next year.
He said Kaunda had outlined an exit strategy which would enable 720 volunteers to undergo a 12-month learnership with the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA) and a private security company. Upon completion of the programme, which is expected to start in July, the company would provide full-time employment for the volunteers.
"However, for volunteers who feel that the skills they have amassed through the programme over the years can enable them to find better opportunities, they will be allowed to remain within the EPWP programme until March next year," said Kaunda.
A female volunteer said that during the meeting with Kaunda, he had ordered them to switch off their phones. "He did that so we could not record what he was saying," said the volunteer. "Kaunda was very rude and arrogant. We had so many questions which needed clarity."
Mntungwa said he could not comment on allegations that Kaunda had been threatening. "The meeting was cordial. All the information is on the statement released by the department," he said.
In a recording Kaunda said those volunteers willing to work for Fidelity Security Group, should register at their districts through their team leaders. They would be earning a stipend of R2,100 per month.
"Once you complete the learnership programme, the company will place and provide you with jobs. We can't change that they are a private institution. If Fidelity needs more security guards, not people to work at the office, that's for them," he said.
Fidelity Group managing director in public relations, Cathy Findley, said nothing had been finalised. She said the company would inform GroundUp when something had been agreed on. "At this stage only some initial discussions have been held," she said.