Union declares deadlock in wake of strike

2008-09-23 00:00

The Msunduzi Municipality’s labour woes are not over. A local Labour Forum meeting held yesterday to resolve matters ended when the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) declared a deadlock over the pay of grade A employees (labourers) and clerks. The meeting ended before issues surrounding the illegal strike could be discussed.

The Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) also attended the meeting.

Municipal manager Rob Haswell said Samwu wanted more money for the grade A employees. “We informed them that what they were asking for went against what was agreed at the national bargaining council and their demand would cost the municipality an additional R109 million, money that the city does not have. The union representatives responded that we should borrow this money or get it from Finance Minister Trevor Manuel as he was sitting with surplus funds,” he said.

Haswell said another issue was the union’s contention that there is inconsistency in how clerks in the organisation are being paid. The unions had earlier alleged favouritism, saying clerks in some departments earn more than their counterparts in other sections.

“From the employer’s side we said, ‘Let’s look at the situation and if there are problems let’s fix it.’ We suggested a task team made up of two representatives from each of the unions, Samwu and Imatu, and two from the employer’s side to investigate the situation and rectify discrepancies to ensure there is equal work for equal pay; that was also not accepted,” said Haswell.

Provincial Samwu organiser Sibusiso Biyela confirmed that the union has declared a deadlock. He said he believed the municipality is not prepared to speak to or listen to the workers on the issues raised. He said the union will report back to the workers and get a mandate as to whether to go on strike again. Only this time, Biyela added, it would be a legal strike.

The workers noted that Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo and Deputy Mayor Mervin Dirks were not at the meeting, although they sit on the Labour Forum. The Witness understands that they sent in their apologies, saying they had other duties to attend to. The workers countered by asking what could be more important than the current labour impasse. The Witness could not get hold of Hlatshwayo and Dirks last night for their comment.

A question being asked at city hall is how there can be such a breakdown in labour relations within the municipality. One answer offered is the failure of the Labour Forum to meet for over a year, allowing grievances and misunderstandings to build up. However, some observers say the municipality caused the problem by absorbing most of the union shop stewards into middle management. It was therefore left to negotiate with fairly inexperienced shop stewards and others who were not absorbed into the management system.

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