Union: Govt in denial over water

2010-10-06 19:47
Cape Town – Government is in denial over South Africa's water crisis, trade union UASA said on Wednesday.

The Federation of Unions of SA affiliate said it was "extremely disappointed" with the department of water affairs' reaction following Fedusa's section 77 application to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

In August this year, Fedusa filed a section 77 notice – in terms of the Labour Relations Act – with Nedlac, warning of possible protest action by the union should government not take firmer and faster steps to tackle the country's massive water pollution problems.

"We are sitting on a time bomb which will affect each and every person in the country," Fedusa warned at the time.

At a subsequent Nedlac meeting last week, the parties agreed that a sub-committee be formed to examine the problem, and government granted 30 days to consult on the matter.

Bizarre at best

But in a media statement last Thursday, water affairs labelled the threat by Fedusa to go on strike over issues of water quality as "bizarre at best".

Acting director general Nobubele Ngele denied there was a water crisis, and said the department's planning teams were "continuously planning well into the future for all major towns and cities in the country".

Further, water purification processes in South Africa were so advanced "that any water, regardless of quality, can be treated to potable (drinkable) quality".

UASA said on Wednesday that the department's use of the word bizarre to describe its intention to strike if the water crisis does not receive adequate attention was unacceptable.

"Ngele's statement that there will be no water crisis is a blatant denial of the problem. We are already in a crisis if a mere seven percent of the country’s sewage plants received Green Drop Status. This means that 93% of sewage plants are not functioning properly.

Zero results

"To Ngele’s suggestion that concerned parties must rather engage with officials of the department... we repeat that previous attempts to do exactly that yielded absolutely zero results, hence our decision to approach Nedlac.

"At least at Nedlac all parties will have a fair chance to consult on the matter, and if government wishes to brush us aside as (department) officials previously did, we will have the opportunity to start mobilising not only Fedusa and UASA members, but also the public at large," it said.

UASA spokesperson Andre Venter told Sapa on Wednesday that he expected the next Nedlac meeting to deal with the issue would be held on about October 26.

Speaking at the Nedlac meeting last week, Stellenbosch University epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes said 80% of existing sewage treatment works in South Africa were overloaded, and about 40% of those in towns were on the brink of collapse.

The quality of the country's river water had fallen by 20% in the past five years, she said.

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