uMngeni strike hots up

2014-05-23 00:00

STRIKING uMngeni municipal workers went on the rampage yesterday, smashing council chamber windows and lighting fires in the car park, igniting fears that there could be attempts to burn down the municipal buildings.

However, calm appeared to have been restored late yesterday afternoon.

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) members were demanding to earn the top amounts in their notches — the same as was given to seven senior managers who converted from contract workers to permanent staff. In addition, they want a 14th cheque, which they claimed was promised them by the municipal leadership. They also want a R25 000 once-off payment — which would create an R11 million hole in the council coffers.

Council sources say the matter of the 14th cheque was a non-issue as it had been dismissed by the Constitutional Court last week. There had been a misunderstanding around this once-off gratuity which the unions call the 14th cheque. It was put on the table to settle a long-standing dispute that the SA Local Government Association had with unions around the wage curve and salary scales, but was not adopted. A source said the news had seemingly not filtered down to the uMngeni workers.

Strikers interviewed by The Witness claimed promises had been made about a once-off payment. They are also adamant that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. They questioned how the managers had arranged for themselves to get paid the top rates in their grades, but are denying this to the workers. “It merely exposes the double standards that exist in this municipality,” said a worker who did not want to be named. He said that besides the top salaries, the managers had also awarded themselves generous car allowances.

Council sources said the dispute had been percolating within the municipality for a long time and is the reason why the former popular municipal manager, Dr Mpilo Ngubane, left. He was against the seven managers getting the top pay they demanded.

Council sources complained that Mayor Mbali Myeni was nowhere to be seen and neither were her top management. They heard that other managers were called in to negotiate with the workers to end the week-long strike.

Sources say the situation is exacerbated by the fact that a municipal manager and chief financial officer are yet to be appointed.

At first the stayaway was low key, but uMngeni residents began noticing that streets were not being cleaned and refuse was not picked up. Tensions rose yesterday because a special council meeting was called where the strikers were told that their demands would not be met.

DA caucus leader Pam Passmoor told The Witness the salaries of municipal workers were determined by the bargaining council at national level, and not by local municipalities.

“The Democratic Alliance cannot condone the illegal strike action instigated by Samwu and the behaviour of the workers, who are holding to ransom both the functioning of the municipality and service delivery to residents and ratepayers,” Passmoor said.

uMngeni Municipality issued a statement yesterday confirming that the strike “over salary adjustments” had started on Monday.

The statement said, “The municipality cannot elaborate further on the matter as negotiations are still ongoing with the union representatives, senior municipal management and the provincial Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta). We would like to assure residents of uMngeni that management is doing its best to speedily resolve this matter so that service delivery is not further hindered. The action of the employees has been strongly condemned as well as any act of disruption during this time and management has firmly pointed this out to Samwu representatives.”

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