Dr Fareed Abdullah, CEO of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) for only two months, is reported to have axed all the seven staff members at the organisation tasked with the co-ordination of the country’s response to HIV and AIDS, TB and STIs. SANAC staff, who did not want to be named, say the new CEO gave them letters only on Tuesday informing them that their employment would be terminated at the end of March, meaning that today is their last day of work.
The turn of events proves that SANAC has been problematic for a while. Staff members allege that they have been working without proper contracts for the last six months. Many staff members have been working on short-term contracts since May 2010 and have lost all their employment benefits. They also allege that at one point their salaries were not paid for three months. Salaries are often paid late. For instance, January salaries were only paid on the 6th of February. Sometimes people are underpaid.
Two of the staff members that have been fired were employed on five-year contracts in 2009 under the former CEO, Dr Nono Simelela, who is now advisor to the Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Their contracts were due to end in 2014. They have decided to take SANAC and the Department of Health to the Bargaining council to contest their dismissals.
However, SANAC deputy chairperson Mark Heywood, denied that staff has been fired.
Heywood said SANAC had been working on a restructuring plan for more than six months. The restructuring would eventually result in a new organogram that would ensure effective delivery of the new National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS, TB and STIs.
He said staff had been told that some posts would be done away with and that people would have to apply for new jobs within SANAC or to re-apply for their old positions. He denied that everyone is losing their jobs, saying that only four people would not be returning to SANAC in April.
But staff sources said that everyone had received a letter of termination.
However, they do concede that they were aware of the looming restructuring.
One staff member said the new structure was presented in February and certain positions were not on it.
Several of the staff members applied for posts and underwent an interview process. Two were subsequently given letters of permanent employment in January, with new salary offers.
So, it was shock when they received correspondence notifying them that their employment will be terminated as of today.
‘What doesn’t make sense is that you give people letters of termination three days before the end of the working month,’ said one staff member.
Letters to staff, signed by the Health Department Director-General on the 14th of March and were given to staff only on Tuesday, claim that all SANAC employees received a letter in January informing them that all posts at SANAC have been cancelled. But staff members deny having received such a letter.
It is also not clear whether the SANAC has already recruited people under its envisaged new structure. One staff member said: ‘We don’t know his (the new CEO’s) plan. He hasn’t had a single staff meeting with us ever since he started here in February. He has only had one-on-one introductory meetings with each of us.’
CEO of SANAC, Dr Fareed Abdullah, has subsequently issued out a statement simply denying any dismissals.
In it he says, all staff were aware of the restructuring of the SANAC Secretariat and positions were advertised and they were encouraged to apply. Two staff members were successful and have been appointed. The statement further says that three staff members applied and were found not to have the skills and expertise necessary for the positions for which they applied. The remainder did not apply for any of the positions.