Meter readers strike over conditions

2009-12-02 00:00

ALLEGATIONS of unjust treatment have been levelled against the company that was given the manual meter reading contract without it having gone to tender.

In a display of unity, meter readers stopped work and demonstrated outside the company’s Boom Street office yesterday for better working conditions and improved pay.

The workers, who spoke to The Witness on condition that their identities will not be revealed, said that although they have tolerated management’s repeated ill-treatment for the past three months, their patience ran out yesterday when some were told they will be facing disciplinary action on “baseless charges”.

Said one of the victims: “I received a phone call [on Monday] informing me that I would be facing a disciplinary hearing the next day because I was sick.

“However, I was injured on duty and submitted the relevant hospital and doctors’ notes. They said the doctors were lying.”

The workers said they were told that if they wanted to take sick leave, they have to give management two weeks’ notice.

They complained that ever since Unique Mbane — the same company that was given the R240 million high technology smart-meter tender — took over the manual reading contract in September in questionable circumstances, they have been receiving their salaries late.

“They’re supposed to pay us on the 25th, but they pay us whenever they feel like it. Our salaries were even decreased without prior notice,” said a worker.

Payslips given to The Witness show that workers were earning more with the previous contractor than with Riotec Metering Solutions (RMS), a subsidiary of Unique Mbane.

For instance, one employee’s final payment under the former contractor shows his total earnings to be R7 657, 06. The payslip is dated “2009/08/25”.

The same employee’s payslip from RMS states that the amount payable stands at R5 492, 08. The payslip is dated “Nov-09”.

“When we try to talk to them about our problems, they threaten us with warnings. One of us was even given a warning for calling the owner’s son by his first name …” said a worker.

In desperation, the workers said, they contacted the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and provincial organiser S’bu Biyela drove from Durban to try to sort out the situation.

After talks with management at the Boom Street office while workers waited outside, Biyela told them he had aired some of their concerns to management and disciplinary hearings would not go ahead before proper investigations were conducted.

“… The basic conditions of employment must be abided by and this has not been the case,” he said.

Municipal manager Rob Haswell failed to respond at the time of going to print .

Chief financial officer Roy Bridgmohan, who is the project manager for the smart meter project, said he cannot comment because he has not yet been made aware of the situation.

Thirumoorthi Chetty, one of Unique Mbane’s directors, disputed that workers are earning less, despite being told that payslips contradicted his statement.

He said the matter regarding disciplinary hearings is still being investigated and all issues would be addressed in the appropriate manner.

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