News of splurge for premier pushes Ezemvelo staff into pay protest

2014-07-01 00:00

THE province’s cash-strapped conservation arm faces a full-scale strike as tensions over a longstanding wage dispute and allegations of financial mismanagement boiled over yesterday.

Hundreds of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff erected a burning barricade outside the body’s headquarters in the plush suburb of Montrose in Pietermaritzburg.

Strikers said the unprotected protest and stay-away were precipitated by an exposé in Weekend Witness, which detailed how the financially frail wildlife institution forked out R1,5 million for a government event at Didima Lodge.

At the centre of the dispute is nearly R70 million owed to thousands of staff for a migration allowance, along with allegations of nepotism and financial mismanagement in the uppermost echelons of the institution.

Yesterday, workers brandished sticks and sang struggle songs as a heavily armed contingent of police looked on, forming a barrier between them and Ezemvelo officials.

Their songs called for the resignation of Ezemvelo head Dr Bandile Mkhize.

The group also successfully managed to lock the only gate to the office compound, securing it with a heavy duty padlock and then hiding the key.

Officers from the police’s Tactical Response Team used bolt cutters to finally open the gates once the workers had been ordered to disperse in the early afternoon.

One woman, who would not be named, said that the long-drawn-out payment process for the migration allowance had forced the hand of workers.

“Management does not want to implement the increase for us that we have been waiting years for. Instead they increased the salaries of the executives, which total more than R20 million, and that is something that we find unacceptable,” she said.

“The time for talking now is done. The only communication I want is the SMS from my bank saying that I have been paid,” she added.

Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa ­Mntambo said that protesting staff members could face disciplinary action.

“In terms of the law we will be taking action against staff but we will first have to have the full report on the incident before deciding on the next step.”

Mntambo confirmed that the demonstration had centred on back pay from the migration process.

He said the organisation was negotiating with the employees’ union and claimed the union had been shocked by the behaviour of its members.

He said the organisation’s resorts were not affected by the protest.

National Education, Health and Allied Worker’ Union KZN chair Zola ­Sapetha said that the union had not endorsed the strike.

“There had been longstanding negotiations but we had not found a middle-ground with the employer. I am waiting for a report on this incident,” he said.


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