The SA Medical Association's attempt to disestablish its trade union structure has been rejected at an extraordinary general meeting. SAMA's leadership called the meeting after union leaders filed a High Court application to preserve millions collected in subscription fees paid by members.
In turn, The `SAMA has reacted to to the “Business Day Business Live reports on the on the 26 February 2018 published an article (penned by journalist Theto Mahlakoana) entitled Medical body denies accusation of fraud. The report makes several unsubstantiated claims in respect of court documents.
"SAMA is very concerned by the inaccuracies contained in the report and what essentially amounts to a serious breach of journalistic integrity, more so by a respected daily newspaper. In our view, it is a transgression of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media, which expects of the media to take care to report news truthfully, accurate and fairly. SAMA reserves all its rights in this matter and will be addressing it through the appropriate channels, including but not limited to the Press Ombudsman.
“The report has seemingly departed from the facts through –
• Material omissions: it fails to inform the reader that the high court application referred to has been struck off the urgent roll with costs in favour of SAMA on 20 February 2018 (6 days before the publication of his article). It also fails to mention that it alludes to an answering and replying affidavit that was never before the court (it was filed outside the time limits allowed for urgent matters and the judge did not allow its inclusion) and thus refers to documents that were never in the public domain. The report also fails to mention that the judge struck the application off the roll because she believed that neither locus standi by the applicant (Dr M Phalane) nor urgency existed;
• Not approaching SAMA for a response prior to the publication of his article: Denying SAMA a right of reply while levelling serious allegations against the Association resulted in a unilateral and unbalanced report resulting in reputational damage suffered by SAMA, as evidence by the Facebook comments on the article.
• The report states its own interpretation of the information as facts, neglecting an essential component of critical reporting by distorting the facts and not providing a fair and accurate report of the court procedures. The report also does not disclose that it only had access to limited information and did not approach SAMA for any comment.
• Falsely creating the impression that SAMA is being accused of fraud – the word “fraud” does not feature in the Applicant’s Founding Affidavit and the journalist did not go to the trouble to indicate that these allegations of unproven facts was her own interpretation – with reference to the decision of the Press Ombudsman (cf. Jurie Roux v Rapport on 6 July 2017).
“When serious allegations such as those contained in the article are made a journalist must be able to show journalistic integrity by not unfairly prejudicing one of the parties through his one-sided version of affairs. SAMA will insist, among others, that Business Live provide it with the opportunity to properly reply to this article, and will share its reply with its members. This seems a fair request.
“The South African Medical Association remains a professional voluntary association for medical practitioners and has been registered as a non-profit company (previously known as a Section 21 company) since 1927. The trade union – the South African Medical Association – has not been deregistered.
“SAMA continues to act in the best interests of all its members and rejects any allegations of fraud against any portion or group of its members in the strongest possible terms.”
Business Day had reported that SAMA’s plan to disestablish its trade union structure had fallen through after an extraordinary general meeting during which the decision was voted against. It said the organisation has been at odds with leaders of the trade union, who have instituted litigation to halt the move and safeguard funds raised through union subscriptions. Sama had wanted to amend its memorandum of incorporation (MoI) – in line with a 2015 board decision to disestablish the union – during the extraordinary meeting on Saturday.
"The trade union movement has defeated the … board in the EGM (extraordinary general meeting). The old MoI that recognises the trade union was reinstated. The new proposed MoI to disband the trade union was defeated," said Sama union leader Dr Mahlane Phalane.
The report says the meeting had allegedly been scheduled hurriedly on the heels of the application filed by the trade union leaders in the High Court in Pretoria. The union leaders want the High Court to preserve all funds collected by the association from subscription fees paid by members. They claimed the funds were being misappropriated by the association’s board, but SAMA has denied this. The High Court struck the matter off its urgent roll last week.
Dr Tsametse Mohlamonyane, a member of the Gauteng provincial executive committee, said that if the SAMA board succeeded in amending the organisation’s memorandum of incorporation, the trade union’s constitution would have been repealed, leaving doctors without a trade union to bargain for their interests with employers. "They wanted to subjugate all the trade union subcommittees because, according to them, there was not a trade union anymore," he said. Mohlamonyane further explained that the fight would now be about the transfer of the union’s assets in order to separate them from the assets of the association.
The report says SAMA has argued in court papers that it had never sought to create parallel structures when it registered the union, but had done so as the need arose for "Sama to be able to represent its members within the forums established in terms of the Labour Relations Act". It also said that in order for the association to represent employees in bargaining councils, it would either need to be a trade union or an employee association.
Mohlamonyane said the conflict between SAMA and the trade union threatened the entire organisation’s existence. "As much as they are fighting … they registered the entire organisation as a union. If the court upholds a decision to deregister it, then the entire organisation would be liquidated," he said.
The report says the trade union had approached the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission to request an investigation into the affairs at SAMA. Meanwhile, SAMA has denied fraud allegations against it, saying there was no evidence.
A further Business Day report said that SAMA decided to collapse its trade-union structures at a 2015 board meeting, saying that it had become ineffective and the move was meant to improve and optimise the representation of employed doctors in the private and public sector. However, the general secretary of the union at the time, Mahlane Phalane, has revealed in court documents that the association has continued to collect millions of rand deducted from doctors’ salaries as union subscription fees.
Although it is still a registered union, the South African Medical Association Trade Union does not comply with requirements of the Labour Relations Act and the labour registrar has warned several times that it would be deregistered.
The report says SAMA is registered in terms of the Companies Act, while the trade union was meant to be a vehicle for the labour relations needs of its members, which also afforded them protections provisioned for in the act. These included the ability to be part of the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council where it negotiated the conditions of its employees in the public service.
Since the decision to halt the union activities, SAMA has continued to receive up to R8m in agency fees from the council, despite not having a leadership or structure in place fulfilling the functions of a trade union as the Labour Relations Act dictates.
The report says in its answering affidavit, SAMA opposed the relief sought by Phalane arguing that when it founded the trade union, it was never meant to be a separate entity to the association. "The reason for registering SAMA as a trade union was simply to enable SAMA to provide employed members with a full suite of services," it said. "The applicant is called upon to provide evidence in support of this allegation," read the affidavit compiled by SAMA GM Manivasan Thandrayen.SAMA material Business Day report Business Day report