Joburg municipal workers go back to work after strike over pay discrepancies

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Striking municipal workers as seen from the Johannesburg council chamber on Friday.
Striking municipal workers as seen from the Johannesburg council chamber on Friday.
Alex Patrick
  • Johannesburg municipal workers have ended their strike after negotiations between Samwu and the City.
  • Workers went on strike on Thursday over discrepancies in their pay.
  • Councillors took turns to address protesting workers on Friday while they waited for the mayor to arrive.

Municipal workers are back at work after the City of Johannesburg and SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) reached an agreement on Friday.

Workers have been on strike since Thursday when they shut down the M1 inner city highway. On Friday, they marched to the municipal offices, where councillors were sitting for the 12th extraordinary council meeting.

The leaders of various political parties left the council meeting to address protesting workers while they waited to speak with Mayor Mpho Phalatse.

Phalatse and other mayoral committee members met with the union and addressed protesters during a downpour.

The protest was over the Political Facilitated Agreement (PFA), instated in 2016, which was aimed at levelling employee salaries.

Samwu's Gauteng secretary, Mpho Tladinyane, said some workers had not been paid but that the City undertook to pay them by December.

Tladinyane said:

Things are fine. We have agreed to a process. A task team is going to look into [the matter] from 14 to 18 November. From there, the City endeavoured to pay workers – at least some portions of money – by the end of December.

"They indicated they don't have enough money [to pay now] and will wait for the adjusted budget between January and February. Once finalised, we will know how much. By March, we should be able to say all workers have been paid," he said.

On Friday, the council voted against a R2-billion short-term loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa. The loan would go towards operational costs and be paid back in June 2023.

In a joint statement on Friday, Phalatse and MMC for group corporate and shared services Leah Knott said the multiparty government would meet with Samwu leaders next week to "fully deliberate on the issues at hand".

"We call on City and entity officials to return to their posts so that the work of service delivery can continue.

"What Samwu will need to answer for is what is seemingly a breakdown in communication between the leadership and their members, who were seemingly unaware of the negotiations that had been taking place over a period of several months."

According to the statement, the PFA is an agreement between labour unions and the 2011-2016 government, which the current government "inherited".

It said since August, the government had taken steps to implement the PFA in a phased approach due to budgetary constraints.

"At the beginning of September, the relevant City and entity officials began to receive monies owed to them. This, therefore, begs the question: what is the real motive behind this unprotected labour action and the trail of destruction it has left behind?"

Meanwhile, on Friday, the council meeting took an hour's break for the mayor to meet with the protesters.

Before she could get there, the EFF, ANC and other parties took turns addressing the crowd.

A general worker, who has been employed at the City of Johannesburg for 16 years, told News24 he was upset because he believed workers in Emfuleni, "the smallest municipality, get more than workers in Johannesburg – a big municipality".

Another protester said he was at the M1 highway on Thursday.

"I was on top of the bridge, and we closed it with bricks. We didn't damage the road."

He said the strikers would continue to disrupt the city if their demands were not met.

He added:

If this thing doesn't work, we will hit the mayor where it hurts. We thought closing the road would hurt her but it didn't. Next, we will close Sandton; all business will stop until she meets us.

A young meter reader working for the City said he believed the mayor should "be released" from her position.

"She is not doing her duty – she's too comfortable in her job."

Ward 16 councillor Gift Mathe said some workers made R7 000 before wage deductions.

"The workers deserve better. Most stay in informal settlements, hostels or single rooms, yet they work for the City.

"The stress they are under to feed their families is immense. Many have issues with alcohol, and some of the younger workers turn to drugs to cope with their struggles."

He said it was essential for the City to up their salaries and "invest in resources for them and empower them".

"Many risk their lives to keep the city working."



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