Tourism agency workers end strike

2011-08-10 14:34

A crippling two-week strike by Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency workers has ended after some of their demands were met.International and local tourists who visited the province’s nature reserves and prime attractions over the period were turned away by striking workers who barricaded and locked entrances.

The agency is responsible for 23 nature reserves as well as world-renowned attractions such as the Blyde River Canyon, Three Rondavels, God’s Window and Bourke’s Luck Potholes.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the agency – a parastatal under the provincial Department of Economic Development Environment and Tourism – agreed on a 7.5% yearly wage increase for the 2011/2012 financial year.

The workers would receive R1 000 housing allowance and an R800 standby allowance.Agency spokesperson Kholofelo Nkambule said the increase was effective from April 1.

“All staff resumed their duties today and all the reserves under the management of the agency are now accessible to the public. Management is currently working on a turnaround strategy to address the challenges faced by the agency and to avoid future incidents of this nature,” Nkambule said.

Nehawu wanted the agency’s chief executive Charles Ndabeni to step down after accusing him of being responsible for the agency’s collapse through incompetence and extravagance.

The agency was in financial crisis and could not pay its telephone and electricity bills over a couple of months now.

Nehawu decided two months ago to stop more than 400 game rangers from working for 24 hours after the agency failed to provide them with food rations and water as it owed service providers R486 000.

Ndabeni denied Nehawu’s accusations and blamed the Department of Economic Development Environment and Tourism for underfunding the parastatal.

The department allocated the agency R230 million instead of R415 million in the current financial year.

The agency owed R20 million to service providers and was short of R203 million to market the province and maintain infrastructure in protected areas.

Nehawu branch secretary Joshua Zwane said it was waiting for Premier David Mabuza’s response to their demand about Ndabeni’s dismissal.

“We submitted a memorandum of grievances to the premier on Friday last week and gave him 21 days to respond to our request that the chief executive must be removed,” Zwane said.

Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism spokesperson Linda Grimbeek said the financial loss during the strike had not been quantified.

“We don’t have figures but the fact is that people came here for a long weekend and could not visit sites. What message will they give about South Africa when they go back to their countries?” Grimbeek said.

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