No ‘harmonisation’ as bins overturned, litter strewn about
E noch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) mayor Sisisi Tolashe has condemned the “illegal strike” by Samwu members who are demanding the harmonisation of salaries and has threatened to invoke the principle of “no work, no pay”.
Municipal workers and Samwu members downed tools last Thursday, demanding the harmonisation of salaries of workers from the former Tsolwana, Nkwanca and Lukhanji municipalities.
This would mean that workers’ salaries from the erstwhile municipalities would be equalised on the same grades with workers doing the same jobs.
On Monday, dustbins were emptied out into streets in Komani, disturbing traffic and leaving the central business district in a mess.
Tolashe said they had talks with the Samwu leadership and had an agreement to pay the affected workers when the local authority was in a position to do so.
“They know the municipality does not have money to back-pay the affected workers at the moment, but we had an agreement that once the municipality has recovered from its financial crisis, the necessary changes and payments would be made.”
Tolashe said Samwu demanded that workers be backpaid from 2016 when the three former entities were merged and that this would cost the municipality R18m.
“Out of about 700 municipal workers, about 250 workers need to be back-paid from the year of the amalgamation to date and that would cost us R1.5m monthly. I do not understand why workers went on strike as, following several engagements with Samwu, we did not deny the workers were owed the money. There was even a council resolution to such effect on August 30 and I thought we had an understanding.
“Nothing has changed on our side, especially now that we have an administrator who is here to look into and improve our finances. Once we collect enough revenue, we will begin the process of rectifying the issues of the former entities.”
Tolashe said the strike had resulted in all municipal offices being closed, which cost the local authority huge sums of money as residents and businesses
were unable to pay for services.
She said the strike also posed a risk to the payment of salaries for December because, if the strike continued, they would be unable to pay workers.
Samwu’s Enoch Mgijima secretary Thabo Ngwane accused the mayor of misleading the people of Enoch Mgijima, saying workers did not request to be backpaid from 2016 but from this month and for the remaining six months of the current financial year.
“We understand the municipality does not have money, so there is no way we would demand payment from two years ago, but if the mayor continues to paint us in a bad light, we will demand that of which she is already accusing us.”
Ngwane said the local authority received another portion of its equitable share which amounted to R59m and all they requested from the municipality was R8m to cover the entire debt.
“If they pay the required amount and fix the grading system, then everything will be well with us. The problem is that they are planning to do the same thing the former municipal manager Chris Magwangqana was suspended for – which is to pay the Eskom debt with the equitable share. That money is for municipal operations, including salaries, hence we ask they pay us the R8m from that fund.”
Border-Kei Chamber of Business administrator Adre Bartis said she understood the need for harmonisation, but that the current financial situation of the municipality did not allow it to make payments at this stage.
“I believe the leaders of the municipality have been transparent with the union in this regard as they have been with the rest of the community. Businesses have been knocked hard by the strike, they want to pay accounts and vehicles from the car dealerships cannot be licensed. They cannot call anyone if there is an issue with electricity and the refuse scattered around town does not entice customers to go to one’s business, especially food establishments.
“As much as we understand the need to strike, the question one would ask is why go to the extent of overturning rubbish bins onto the streets? Cars had to navigate their way and many were tourists who usually stop in Komani to fill up tanks and refresh.”
Tolashe apologised for the inconvenience caused by the strike and urged residents and businesses who wanted to pay for services, to be patient during this period.
Three EMLM general workers, who wanted to remain anonymous, visited The Rep offices to complain about having served the municipality for more than a decade as casual workers without being considered for permanent employment.
One said, “I started working as a casual worker in 2009. I have been earning R1,500 per month from then until now. We want the community and political parties to intervene and for the labour law to be applied. We have children and families – how are we expected to survive with this amount. We go around collecting waste with the truck, our work is risky, because we can contract diseases or be injured yet EMLM does not provide us with protective clothing.”
He said there were more than 100 casual workers and that they had been asking the municipality to address their grievances.
The three workers said Samwu had failed the casual workers.
“EMLM told us that the back pay was only for permanent employees. The union has not fought for us to become permanent nor for us to get protective clothing.”
“Our overtime money does not reach R2,000 and because of that, many of us do not work for extra hours. We do not even get compensated when we get injured while on duty because we are not in the system.”
Samwu secretary Thabo Ngwana said the union was tending to the grievances of the casual workers.
He said the municipality had also made an announcement that they were going to cut some of the general workers due to the financial problems.
WHAT A MESS: Litter in the streets of Komani as the municipal strike rages on