‘City lied about strike’

2019-03-04 16:43
The normally crowded AS Chetty building lobby was empty yesterday as the finance unit staff closed their working stations as part of an ongoing strike.

The normally crowded AS Chetty building lobby was empty yesterday as the finance unit staff closed their working stations as part of an ongoing strike. (Nokuthula Ntuli)

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The cash-strapped Msunduzi is losing between R7 million and R10 million a day due to the finance department’s strike, which has seen hundreds of ratepayers being turned away since Thursday.

Most of the consumers had gone to the AS Chetty building to pay their accounts and others had queries on their utility bills. They feared their electricity would be disconnected if they failed to pay on time. “Enjoy your free water and electricity,” shouted the finance staff to the ratepayers.

The more than 100-member finance team, including cashiers and clerks, downed tools on Wednesday as continuation of last week’s industrial action. They were striking over salary disparities, working conditions and the controversial Systems, Application and Products (SAP) financial system.

“We are doing work that should be done by accountants but we are earning less than R7 000. The meter readers were on the same grade as us and they were recently given a raise but we are still earning peanuts,” said one of the protesters on Friday.

They said their office did not have a switchboard or receptionist so there was no one dedicated to fielding calls from the consumers. “This is a finance unit so people should be able to phone in with their queries and get responses but sometimes the phone doesn’t even get answered.”

Those who worked on the financial system said they also wanted the City to get rid of SAP as it was making it impossible for them to do their jobs.

“SAP is the worst financial system I’ve ever worked on. Every month there are thousands of consumers who are getting wrong statements and when they come and ask us to explain to them what happened or fix the problem, we can’t because we don’t know how to,” said one of the clerks.

Her colleague said SAP had been a source of frustration for both the staff and ratepayers, who were sometimes inconvenienced by wrongful disconnections. “Almost everyday we get consumers screaming at us because of problems with their statements and some are disconnected without even getting those.”

The protesters said the City lied in Friday’s Witness when it said there was no strike and that staff had received training on how to use SAP.

The workers met with City management last week and there was a commitment to follow-up the meeting on Wednesday, but that did not happen.

What further angered the staff was a circular issued by the management saying the follow-up meeting would only be held next week. “Their arrogance is shocking, especially since they know that we collect between seven and R10 million a day. I wonder where they are going to get the money to pay Eskom and Umgeni Water.

“They want us to work through the month-end rush without getting a proper response on whether our concerns are going to be addressed. If they want to meet on March 6 [Wednesday] then we are not going to work until then.”

Most of the ratepayers who spoke to Weekend Witness said they were at loss as to what to do as they had queries on their statements.

Those who had come to pay their accounts said they would try Pick n Pay and electronic funds transfers. “I was also here yesterday [Wednesday] and didn’t get any help. I came back today because I read inThe Witness that the municipality said there was no strike,” said Pam Stephenson from Hayfields.

Pensioner Praveen Maharaj had come to collect his statement so that he could pay what was due. He said he had not been receiving any statements since last year. “I can’t just sit at home and wait for them to disconnect my lights, so I come here to ask for a copy of the statement.”

Eastwood’s Nokuzola Dlamini had a query on her statement. She said she normally paid R1 800, but her latest bill reflected R3 558.

City spokesperson Ntobeko Ngcobo said management was dealing with employees who have embarked on an unprotected strike. She said the City’s offices would be open today and tomorrow from 8 am to 4 pm in order to assist consumers. However, the protesters said they would not be coming to the work.

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