Social development workers arrested for protest over ‘sick building’

2012-01-13 07:48

A month-long protest by employees of the Eastern Cape Department of Social Development and Special Programmes resulted in their arrest outside provincial headquarters in King William’s Town.

The 20 civil servants, including National Education, Health Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) leaders at the site, were hauled off by police and detained at the town’s police station yesterday.

Department head, Bea Hackula claimed the workers had violated a court order barring them from strike and “had a violent element”.

These were refuted by angry workers who in turn hit back saying there was no such order and accused Hackula and MEC Pemmy Majodina of not having their best interests at heart.

When the City Press arrived at the scene, workers produced a list with 17 grievances against the department. These ranged from human resources and employee benefit-related issues to the state of the building they work in, which they say is not fit to be inhabited.

“Since we moved into this building in March 2011 we’ve been complaining about this building and management have done very little despite making many promises,” said shop steward Sabelo Situli.

Situli said a lack of ventilation, water leaks and exposed electrical wires were some of the concerns they had with the building.

“Reports from occupational risk management company Nosa, the labour department, and our internal wellness department have all raised issues with this building. People get sick here all the time and a local doctor has even written to the department about the patients he sees because of this building,” said Situli.

Workers said they were forcibly moved to the building and promises of compensation for moving were not fulfilled.

They also accused the department of diverting R700 000 meant for their development to hosting events in Port Elizabeth, which did not benefit them.

Hackula dismissed most of the claims saying the department was addressing issues with the building.

“We all have to deal with the heat and we’ve begun installing air conditioners for workers to be comfortable.

“If the building was indeed not fit, the department of labour would have done more than give us 60 days to rectify things. They would have shut us down,” she said.

She also said the department had given workers ample chance to return to work, but they ignored pleas and warnings.

She said the protesters had started forcing their way into offices and physically intimidating staff.

“They did that to me and that is all contained in my statement to the police,” she said.

King William’s Town police said the 20 employees would be charged with contravening a court order and will appear in the town’s magistrates court today.

Workers maintained their action would continue today, when provincial leadership met with management.

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