A health crisis is looming in Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas as Msunduzi waste management workers have embarked on an indefinite illegal strike.
Uncollected garbage on the streets and outside homes had been accumulating since Tuesday, posing a major health risk to residents.
In the CBD, residents living in apartments along busy streets such as Pietermaritz and West had been leaving black plastic bags full of garbage on the side of the streets, with some of the bags now spilling over into the middle of the streets.
The Msunduzi landfill site in New England Road has also been affected, with dumpers taking advantage of the strike and throwing rubbish all over the place.
“The dump has become a big mess, people are doing whatever they like, with some dumping rubbish outside the site,” a resident said.
The striking workers, who have not followed procedures before downing tools, are demanding a standardised salary system and safe working conditions.
“We are currently working within an environment where there are huge salary disparities for people who are doing similar jobs. For example you would find one cleaner earning R8 000 a month while the other is getting R17 000,” said Jabulani Ngidi, who is one of the strike leaders.
While the protestors fall under the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) the union leadership has distanced itself from the strike. “As the Samwu leaders we have not sanctioned the strike, the members who have embarked on the industrial action you are referring to have not consulted us before taking the decision,” Samwu regional secretary Sbu Molefe said.
The labour relations act stipulates that aggrieved workers should, after failing to resolve their dispute with the employer, refer the matter to either the CCMA or any other relevant council.
It is only after the CCMA or the relevant authority have issued the workers with a certificate declaring the dispute as unresolved that the workers can then embark on a strike.
Ngidi conceded that processes had not been followed when embarking on the strike. “Challenges facing the workers have reached a point where it has become impossible for us to do our work. This is why we went to the City Hall today [on Friday] to request the municipal manager to resolve the issues we are raising so that we can go back to work,” he said.
The DA in Msunduzi slammed the council’s leadership for allowing the situation to get out of hand.
“This municipality has a track record of leaving things to run until they blow up — it is unacceptable that ratepayers are being made to pay for a service they are not getting,” said DA councillor Ross Strachan.
The striking workers have been blocking the entrance to the municipality’s engineering workshop in Havelock Street. When Weekend Witness drove past the premises, that also houses the municipality’s waste management unit, smoke from burning tyres brought in by the strikers could be seen from a distance.
Msunduzi could not be reached for comment.