City fails to pay salaries

2017-05-25 13:30
Chanting Msunduzi employees make the symbol of a pistol while protesting their unpaid salaries outside the City Hall on Wednesday. Almost 70% of the city workers went unpaid on Wednesday as managers scrurried to find the fault, promising to make the payments by midnight last night.

Chanting Msunduzi employees make the symbol of a pistol while protesting their unpaid salaries outside the City Hall on Wednesday. Almost 70% of the city workers went unpaid on Wednesday as managers scrurried to find the fault, promising to make the payments by midnight last night. (Ian Carbutt)

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Is the City broke, is the bank to blame or was Wednesday’s non-payment of municipal salaries simply a technical glitch?

These were the questions on Msunduzi municipal workers’ minds as they ran amok in the streets of the Pietermaritzburg CBD on Wednesday after they discovered their salaries had not been paid.

According to the trade unions, almost 70% of the workers did not receive their salaries for May on Wednesday.

The tension among the workers worsened after the City could not come up with a proper explanation for this and mayhem began to unfold in the city centre.

Chaos erupted when the unpaid workers blocked the streets in the CBD with municipal vehicles.

They started their protest at the Doull Road municipal depot where numerous departments gathered together and workers drove slowly down Langalibalele Street.

They abandoned their municipal vehicles in the middle of the road at the corner of Chief Albert Luthuli and Langalibalele streets.

Angry protesters then pelted the City Hall and municipal administration block, the A.S. Chetty building, with eggs.

They also threw rubbish around and blocked Church Street to motorists and taxi drivers who were trying to drive through the city centre. Stand-offs between taxi drivers and protesters were seen unfolding.

Workers from the electricity, water and sanitation and waste management departments downed tools. Fire department sources said they would only respond to fires where lives were threatened, as they too had not been paid.

Power went off in parts of the CBD soon after the protest started with allegations made that angry protesters had sabotaged the electricity supply there.

Proceedings at the Pietermaritzburg courts had to be suspended when they were plunged into darkness.

The Witness saw workers switching off the power to the A.S. Chetty building where piles of rubbish were burned in front of the gates. Power was later restored.

Public Order Police (Pop) units were also on scene observing the protest that unfolded but they kept back and did not step in to intervene.

Calls for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube to dissolve the municipality, were made by the protesting employees.

City workers banking with FNB said they had received SMS notification that their salary had been paid into their accounts.

A representative for the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union, who asked not to be named, said she had her doubts on whether the city has the money to pay its employees.

“Last month the chief financial officer told unions that the city had cash coverage in reserves enough to cover three months. If so, why are the workers not paid? Who is fooling who here?

“Should we not go back under administration to sort this out? We need the MEC for Cogta to come and investigate this, because we are being told different stories,” she said.

SA Municipal Workers’ Union regional secretary Sbu Molefe said the saga showed poor leadership in Msunduzi.

“They knew way in advance that they were not going to be able to pay workers today [Wednesday]. They should have had the courtesy to come and tell the workers that there were problems. This is a sign of incompetency from Msunduzi leadership, both political and officials,” Molefe said.

The workers agreed that they would continue with their protest until every employee was paid.

They said they were wary that the city could try to divide them by paying only some of their employees.

“They are probably trying to secure an easy loan right now,” said one protester.

An electricity contractor told The Witness that they received their job cards early on Wednesday morning but when the protest began, they were summoned to the depot and were forced to cease all work for the day.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese denied rumours that the police officers were outnumbered because most of the police Pop Unit had been deployed to Nquthu where that municipality’s by-elections were taking place.

Opposition  blame blunder on carelessness

Opposition parties agreed the situation could have been avoided had the municipality been on top of their finances.

Dennis Ntombela of the IFP said he felt “very sad” for the workers who were not paid yesterday and said the municipality acted carelessly. “How can such an institution make such a big blunder?” Ntombela asked.

He said he was also not paid but “I am more concerned for the workers”.

DA caucus leader Sibongiseni Majola said the saga showed that Msunduzi finances were not in order. He said the non-payment of salaries was an insult to the workers. “How are we going to retain these workers if we are treating them like this?”

EFF caucus leader Prince Duma blamed the saga on the Nquthu by-elections. “They have been focusing too much on Nquthu and forgetting about issues in Msunduzi. Even the officials have been very active in Nquthu.

“The workers have bills to pay; are they going to give them extra salary since interest would be added to late payments on debit orders?”

Duma said he too had not received his salary.

Senior managers have no clear answers

SENIOR managers in the municipality were unable to give The Witness a clear indication of why employees were not paid.

Acting City manager Sizwe Hadebe told the protesting employees that the problem was with First National Bank (FNB), which the municipality banks with.

Hadebe said the bank’s system was hacked and caused the delay in payment to some employees, but FNB spokesperson Nick Montso denied that their system was compromised when asked by The Witness.

When this was queried with municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha, she told The Witness that the non-payment of the salaries was a result of “technical issues” with the City’s payroll.

Mafumbatha said she could not explain what the problem was exactly, as some employees were paid while others were not.

“As it stands, we have the technical team investigating what is going on, but we anticipate that payment to all employees would be done by midnight tonight,” Mafumbatha said late yesterday afternoon.

When asked what the issues around FNB were, Mafumbatha said she could not comment.

FNB’s spokesperson Montso said the financial institution was operating as normal and they were liaising directly with Msunduzi Municipality regarding the matter.

The municipal finance department recently implemented the new SAP system and has been experiencing numerous glitches with electrical contract workers also waiting for their payment for work done in March.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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