Staff sick of dirty offices

2014-02-17 00:00

OFFICIALS at the Department of Education administration offices in Pietermaritz Street have spent weeks working in a pool of sewage after the department allegedly failed to renew a cleaning contract

Fed-up workers were allegedly working half days as they could no longer stomach the conditions they were working under.

In addition to this, the telephones have been inoperative for more than two weeks.

Last Friday, two employees standing outside the offices during lunchtime said they believed the sewage had been fixed. Another said she believed cleaning staff had started on Friday.

A few employees were seen coming in and out of the building, with others standing talking in the yard around 2 pm on the same day.

Those who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs said the problems began last month. The department allegedly cancelled a contract with a cleaning company and failed to appoint a new one. The officials working there say their offices and the toilets, were not cleaned thereafter.

The officials said the toilets stank and were in a disgusting state. The situation was made worse by a huge problem with a blocked sewer system that caused sewage to leak through the ceiling in some of the offices.

An employee there, who declined to be named, said they had been working half days because of the situation. “The toilets are filthy and it smells, people only come here at eight in the morning, by 10 or 11 o’clock they are leaving because there is no way we can continue and work in such conditions the whole day.”

Another said, “If you go there now [midday yesterday] you will see all the employees as they are now leaving [for the day].”

The telephone system in some of the office blocks had not been working for over a week.

In effect the KZN Education Department is barely functioning because the basics like maintenance and office cleaning are not being carried out and the telephone numbers schools and the public use to contact the department have not been fixed, said the source.

The staff are blaming the head of department, Nkosinathi Sishi, for doing nothing to sort out the problems. They asked how such problems could be allowed to continue for more than two weeks with nothing being done.

However, Education Department spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa said there was no crisis in their offices. He said he worked in the same offices and the situation was back to normal.

Speaking to The Witness last week, he said he was unaware of the allegations that there were no cleaners. “It happens that contracts lapse and in such situation we look for people who will clean while the others are still there; in those offices, there are people who clean.”

He said that both the sewage and the phone line problems had now been attended to and everything was back to normal.

However, on Friday a number belonging to the department strangely flip-flopped between the department offices and a correctional services centre, prompting a complaint from the unnamed man from the centre, who said, “The number you dialled is correct, for the past six months we have been receiving calls meant for the Department of Education”. When the number was dialled again, it went to the human resource office.

A woman at the Education Department’s call centre in the same building, when asked for the main number, said the switchboard number did not work.

Willy Naidoo, regional secretary of teachers’ union Sadtu, said they was aware of the working conditions but declined to speak further, saying it would be premature to comment as the union was still engaging with the department and the matter was very sensitive.

“What I can say is that we are very concerned that our members have to work in such conditions,” he said.

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