Thulas Nxesi. Picture: SUPPLIED
Thulas Nxesi. Picture: SUPPLIED

Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi says his department will review its policy regarding the composition and costs of overseas delegations with a view to containing and cutting costs.

This follows widespread criticism after the government sent one of the largest delegations to a recent 12-day conference in Geneva, Switzerland, which cost taxpayers millions of rand. The delegation included officials from the department of employment and labour, and various stakeholders, such as trade unions. The department covered their accommodation, flights and daily allowances.

Nxesi confirmed in a reply to a question from the DA in parliament this week that there were 62 accredited delegates in total, which cost the department at least R3.5m. However, he justified the trip describing it as a “very important session”. He said in accordance with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) constitution, member states are obliged to cover the costs of participation of the social partners [organised business and organised labour] in annual conferences. 

“Due to the special nature of this International Labour Conference (ILC), discussions on the future of work, the former minister [Mildred Oliphant] had agreed to also include representatives of the community sector from the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) as they participated in all national consultative meetings on the same,” said Nxesi.

Government delegates and social partners from 187 member states of the ILO gathered for a historic session of the annual ILC as the organisation celebrated 100 years in Geneva, from June 10 to 21 2019. 

“This very important session was also graced by 40 heads of state and governments, who came to not only congratulate the organisation on this milestone but to also assist in providing direction and guidance for the future using, as their base document, the report of the ‘Global Commission on the Future of Work’,” Nxesi said.

He said over the years and due to heightened interest on the importance of issues under discussion at the ILC, social partners have increased the number of participating delegates covering the full cost of such participation. “It should be noted that the ILC also serves as a convenient platform for bilateral meetings as most ministers and entities converge in Geneva during this period.”

Nxesi said, however, his department would be reviewing the current policy on the composition and costs of overseas delegations with a view to containing and cutting costs of future delegations, while ensuring the effective participation and engagement of SA in ILO forums.

DA MP Michael Cardo, who put the question to Nxesi, described the Geneva trip as a “colossal waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“[Delegates] included representatives from union federations Cosatu and Fedusa, as well as the department of employment and labour’s entities such as Productivity SA, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), Nedlac and the Compensation Fund. However, the department did not provide details on how much these entities spent on the trip. The DA will submit further questions to ascertain this information.”

Cardo said the money could have been better spent helping the nearly 10-million unemployed South Africans get a foot on the labour market ladder. “It reflects poorly on the newly appointed employment and labour minister who allegedly approved the expenditure.” 

phakathib@businesslive.co.za