Durban’s money mess

2013-10-06 06:00

Union Imatu is preparing to go to court should eThekwini continue with veiled threats that it will claim back money paid to workers who benefited from a deal declared unlawful by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).

Durban’s city bosses and municipal unions are battling the clock to finalise new conditions of service for some 24 000 employees following the SCA’s ruling this week that the conditions imposed by the city for more than six years are unlawful.

Unions and the municipality are also independently trying to quantify who owes what to whom after the SCA in effect endorsed several lower court rulings that 2007 conditions negotiated at the SA Local Government Bargaining Council’s KwaZulu-Natal divisional were flawed.

At the time, the new conditions had been negotiated to regularise the working conditions of 18 000 employees from 49 municipalities with 31 different conditions of service and five pay scales.

These people became employees of the eThekwini municipality when they were incorporated into the new metro council.

At the time, both Imatu (the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union) and Samwu (South African Municipal Workers’ Union), which had signed the invalid agreement, went to court and won a judgment setting the conditions aside as the divisional bargaining council had acted beyond its powers.

The city appealed the Labour Court judgment at the Labour Appeal Court and lost. It then took the matter to the SCA.

This week the SCA rejected the city’s appeal as “no practical result or effect can be achieved” as the 2007 agreement, which was “void and of no legal effect” had expired.

The judgment does not impact directly on salaries, but deals with allowances that are an integral part of municipal-employee packages.

Particularly affected are municipal police and fire staff, who were all given an omnibus 17%-of-salary allowance to replace overtime and shift allowances.

Office staff, who did not work shifts or overtime, received the same allowance as the front line staff doing shifts and overtime.

On Friday, Imatu regional manager Themba Shezi, a former Samwu official who was one of the signatories of the flawed agreement, said the implications of the ruling were still “frightening” to him as a “citizen of the city”.

“The tragedy here is that, at the time, the city told the court that it would pay up if the ruling went against it. The city dragged things out for a considerable time. Now that the unfavourable ruling is confirmed, they don’t want to pay up and instead are intimating they want to recover (money) from workers. There is no court which would support so clearly unfair a decision and we will spare no cost and efforts in making sure that our members’ rights are protected,” said Shezi.

A task team consisting of the unions and the city meet tomorrow to work out how to quantify the financial implications of the seven years and to formulate how new, legally binding conditions of service can be put together.

City Manager S’bu Sithole did not respond to a request for an interview from City Press.

In a statement, Sithole downplayed the financial implications of the ruling, saying that workers probably owed the city more than it owed them.

“The city would like to dispel the myth that this ruling will bankrupt the municipality, as some of the media houses have concluded. Based on the city’s own initial assessment, there (are) bound to be more implications on individual employees than the city itself. However, we await the final quantification of the implications before we can pronounce further on this matter,” said Sithole.

“We appreciate that with the benefit of hindsight the City could have treated this matter differently when the initial dispute was raised in 2007. This is now water under the bridge. Our task is to manage the process constructively and find a solution to the matter,” he said.

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