‘Give us overtime’

2010-02-25 00:00

HUNDREDS of striking municipal workers rampaged through the heart of the city yesterday demanding overtime payments and attempted to disrupt the premier’s state of the province address.

Wearing their official uniforms, workers from the traffic, water, electricity and waste management departments gathered at the municipal offices in Havelock Road yesterday morning before trekking through the city streets in municipal vehicles.

From West to Langalibalele streets, the strikers caused havoc by disrupting traffic and parking vehicles on the sides of the roads. Some hopped on and off rubbish collection trucks, singing liberation songs.

When the strikers reached Chief Albert Luthuli Street, they parked alongside the city hall, stood outside and conti­nued singing songs in protest.

Garbage removal trucks were parked outside the city hall facing oncoming traffic, while vehicles from the electri­city department blocked the opposite lanes, bringing traffic to a halt.

Passers-by looked on in amazement, with some hurling insults and making rude gestures to the strikers.

Shouts of “get back to work” and “you’re just lazy” were heard, but the strikers were undeterred.

According to insiders, while the workers were protesting outside the city hall, word got around that Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini was at the Royal Showgrounds attending the premier’s state of the province address.

The strikers then decided to protest in front of the king.

They drove down Chief Albert Luthuli Street and parked in front of the showgrounds, only to be met by an army of policemen guarding the main gates.

Not discouraged, the strikers parked their vehicles outside the main gates and continued protesting in the hope that the king would come out and hear them out.

Msunduzi Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo came out of the showgrounds to listen to the workers’ grievances. Some told her they had not been paid their salaries.

When The Witness arrived, Hlatshwayo was trying to address the workers, but they directed insults at her whenever she spoke.

The workers accused the mayor of benefiting from tenders while they suffer, but the mayor repeatedly told them that is not true. She said those who have proof that she has benefited from tenders should bring it forward, but the workers were not appeased and persisted with verbal abuse.

The war of words ended abruptly when the mayor left.

Workers later told The Witness that the municipality has failed to keep its promise that they would be paid for the overtime hours they had worked.

“We want our money. We worked for it. They said they would give it to us; now they have back-tracked,” complained a worker.

At a full council meeting yesterday afternoon, Hlatshwayo said she was concerned when she was called out of the state of the pro­vince address to attend to workers who had not been paid.

She said she had asked for those who had not been paid their salaries to raise their hands, but none did.

Hlatshwayo said she personally checked to make sure that workers had been paid.

“The issue is not about people not getting their salaries, it’s about them not getting illegal overtime,” she said.

Hlatshwayo said there is legislation governing how many overtime hours may be claimed, and the executive committee has resolved that no one employee may work more than the stipulated 40 hours a week unless there are unusual circumstances.

“We need everyone to support us to control the bud­get … and to tell workers they’re not entitled to illegal overtime,” she said.

Council speaker Alpha Shelembe said: “We cannot allow anarchy. Unruly wor­kers cannot be tolera­ted … [and] such misbehaviour can never be allowed.”

Deputy Mayor Mervyn Dirks said the protest was clearly an attempt to embarrass the council during the premier’s address.

He said that besides the “no work, no pay” policy, the acting municipal manager will investigate so action can be taken.

“We must stand united and take on those who think they can undermine the leadership of this council,” he said.

Insiders said yesterday the strike will continue today as workers want the municipality to pay them for the overtime hours worked.

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