THE principal author of South Africa’s Labour Relations Act, Michael Halton Cheadle is more than simply a professor at law.
Cheadle, who began his career defending workers from the machinations of the apartheid system, metastasized from being a practitioner of labour law to a global economic player and international labour broker, with a directorship and shareholding in a human resources empire and financial services firm that literally sold workers rights down the river.
From a notable career which began with support for workers unions such as the African Textile Workers Industrial Union (A-TWIU) and National Union of Textile Workers (NUTW) where he held an executive position, to labour fund management, and the establishment of the General Factory Workers Benefit Fund (GFWBF), Cheadle effectively ended up redefining human labour in purely monetary terms, first as a rands and cents equation, then as a simple cost to company, as labour was finally repackaged as a new form of capital.
Between 1992 and 1994 Cheadle was an “Independent Legal Expert with National Manpower Communications” positioning himself at the centre of political intrigue with his appointment to “various commissions of enquiry and government delegations such as the ad hoc committee on the Bill of Rights”.
Because of his close ties to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, Cheadle, who signs his legal opinions H Cheadle, was appointed as the special advisor to the Minister of Labour and soon found himself the “principal architect of the 1995 Labour Relations Act” according to an online biography.
In March 1999 Cheadle was involved in establishing the Resolve Group, which until 2012 provided ”a suite of human resources and labour relations services.” In the process he created a total solution in workforce management. The Resolve Group included Resolve Workplace Solutions, Resolve Encounter Consulting, Tokiso Dispute Management, Converse Consulting, Mediaworks, Resolve Career Transition, CCI Growthcon and Resolution Logic, all involved in the employment, placement and management of workers and professionals.
Services offered by the Resolve group included: Labour performance management, training programmes and services, private dispute resolution, recruitment and outsourcing, adult education and training, career transition and outplacement, psychometric testing and operational performance improvement.
The CCI Growthcon website proudly proclaims, without a hint of irony: “By performance improvement we mean revenue growth, service delivery, cost reduction/ deferral and/or capital reduction/deferral.”
Resolution Logic on the other hand, perversely offers its clients “dynamic financial modelling and people strategies for your employee segmentation, human capital and workforce planning needs.”
Directors of the company included ANC heavyweight Max Sisulu, the current speaker of the House of Assembly, who is nearing retirement, and CEO David Storey, a man with strong ties to the Discovery Group and other financial services companies.
Cheadle remained an executive director at the company alongside David Storey and juggled his time spent seeing to the affairs at Resolve with a professorship and lecturing position at the ivy league University of Cape Town. Cheadle was thus a Professor of Labour Law at the University of Cape Town’s Law Faculty at the same time that he was a major shareholder in a number of business ventures and financial operations including law firm Cheadle Haysom and the Resolve Group.
In 2012 the Resolve Group appears to have been bought out by Ernst & Young Advisory Financial Services. A press release issued by the company states: “We are pleased to announce that Ernst & Young has acquired the consulting interests of The Resolve Group, a Johannesburg-based Human Capital advisory firm.” It is unclear as to the resulting share structure, but the move came amidst controversy.
The shift followed extensive criticism of Cheadle because of his failure to disclose information pertinent to the proceedings in a labour matter under his direct supervision, in which both his firms held a material interest in the outcome of events.* His flagrant disregard for fairness and impartiality in not recusing himself resulted in correspondence with the disciplinary committee of the Cape Law Society. He is now listed as Professor of Public Law at UCT.
Cheadle’s political career might have easily seen his entering politics as an activist and his ascendency to parliament as a party representative of the ruling ANC, instead his chose to become an extra-parliamentary backbencher. His appearance on the bench as acting judge of the Labour Court was thus bound to raise eyebrows, the least of which is the conflict of interest that goes with having been the principal author of the document which would have needed to be interpreted during proceedings at the court.
Instead of focusing on his professional duties, Cheadle sought out a more lucrative, but nevertheless parallel career path, one which would invariably present itself with all the difficulties and contradictions encountered by his possessing a directorship in a firm engaged in free enterprise at the same time that he held the directorship of a well-known law firm.
Not satisfied with simply being an academic, or a party activist representing labour at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Cheadle is now also listed on the website of the World Economic Forum, begging the question: Who is Michael Halton Cheadle?
What is clear is that South Africa’s Labour Czar has leveraged his privileged position, one in which he declaims on such pressing and urgent topics as the need to change labour legislation, with the uncanny ability to also broker the negotiation and sale of the surplus output of labour and capital by government and corporate enterprise, both locally and internationally.
Is it any surprise that following the events of Marikana, Cheadle also represents the interests of the state union federation COSATU as well as the World Economic Forum?
Cheadle’s position at the World Economic Forum and the International Labour Organisation, including one committee tasked with making recommendations on the application of international conventions has seriously compromised his ability to serve either the Labour Court of South Africa or the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court. The business of drafting legislation should not be confused with the interpretation of statute, and both represent problems when it comes to the nitty gritty of business**. That Cheadle was involved in the outsourcing and management of workers at the same time that he was tasked with protecting workers interests at the Labour Court of South Africa, strikes one as beneath contempt.
- NOTE: The author of this article has laid a complaint of judicial misconduct with the Judicial Services Commission. A complaint regarding the adjudication of a matter before the Labour Court of South Africa has been referred to the South African Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector. Proceedings for the impeachment of Michael Halton Cheadle are underway.
** In 1919 Jewish businessman Arnold Rothstein was accused of fixing the Baseball World Cup Series. He appeared before a grand jury. Although the state failed to a secure a conviction, the players involved were banned from the sport for life. Similarly, South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje was accused of match-fixing in 2000. He received a life-time ban but was not convicted of any crime.
UPDATE: A corruption and forging of documents docket has been opened at the SAPS commercial fraud unit. The National Prosecution Authority is also in receipt of documentation and has opened a case for investigation. The case has also been forwarded to the Public Protector.