Wait and see, union warns as Rand Water vows strike won't impact supply

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Samwu has announced that it will be embarking on a protected strike action at Rand Water from 13 May.
Samwu has announced that it will be embarking on a protected strike action at Rand Water from 13 May.
Werner Beukes
  • The SA Municipal Workers' Union plans to go on strike at Rand Water as from 13 May due to a dispute regarding the payment of incentive bonuses.
  • Rand Water says unions are aware that employees providing essential services will not be allowed to strike.
  • A union representative, however, warns that the absence of non-essential workers could still end up impacting service delivery.

Rand Water has given assurance that it's highly unlikely water supply will be impacted if the South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) goes on a protected strike – but a union representative says it's a case of "wait and see".

Samwu has announced that it will be embarking on a protected strike action at Rand Water from 13 May 2021.

And while essential services may not be interrupted, a union representative says it's "easier said than done" to promise service delivery will not be impacted.

Rand Water is a bulk water utility that supplies municipalities and industries in Gauteng, the North West, the Free State and Mpumalanga.

For its part, it says it is standing by to interdict the strike if necessary.

'Painful' decision

"This has been one of the most painful decisions that we have had to take as workers because we know the impact that this will have on residents.

"It is, however, important to note that before we are employees of Rand Water, we are community members and, as such, we too want clean water running in our homes," the union said in its statement.

Rand Water's General Manager: Communications, Stakeholder Management and Marketing Teboho Joala told Fin24 on Tuesday that it is not anticipating operations will be impacted.

"We are an essential services employer, and the shop stewards know that. We have an agreement with unions in this regard," said Joala.

He said the Rand Water board believes it is correct in regarding the payment of bonuses as discretionary and variable remuneration, and, therefore, not a matter that warrants a strike as it does not form part of the minimum service agreement between the employer and employee.

Additionally, he said, current economic conditions, including the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, must be taken into account.

"It is a period of uncertainty and unprecedented debt increases due to municipalities not paying," he explained.

"When the board takes a decision, it follows policy. It has always been pointed out that bonuses are a discretionary payment. We cannot compromise the short- to medium-term sustainability of the business." 

He further said an interdict would be sought "if need be".

Pay up bonuses

Samwu's Gauteng deputy provincial secretary Mamorena Madisha told Fin24 on Tuesday afternoon that the union had to opt for strike action after Rand Water did not offer anything acceptable regarding the payment of incentive bonuses.

"They cannot just say, after 17 years, that they are not going to pay these bonuses. We say it [has become] a benefit, which they have to pay. We also asked Rand Water to prove to us its economic hardships. We requested management accounts to prove income targets were not reached. They did not make a loss," said Madisha.

She said union members are employed throughout Rand Water, from engineers to human resources and along the whole supply chain. Therefore, just because those who will be on strike will be not designated as providing essential services, it does not mean Rand Water's service provision will not be affected.

"It is misleading tell the public that employees who are non-essential don't play a role in the cycle of water distribution. Certain things won't happen during the strike; for example, employees who purchase chemicals to purify the water before its quality is checked are not deemed to be essential. This is just one example," she said.

"Providing a water service involves a lengthy and serious process. Of course we will not hamper those systems deemed to be essential, but wait and see what systems will be affected. It is easier said than done to claim that service disruptions will not take place.

"Let's wait and see."

At the same time, she said the union remained available for further negotiations until the last minute.

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