‘Third force behind strike’

Samwu members in eThekwini Municipality allegedly continued to intimidate their non-striking colleagues and members of the public this week. Picture: Tumi Pakkies/ Independent Newspapers

Samwu members in eThekwini Municipality allegedly continued to intimidate their non-striking colleagues and members of the public this week. Picture: Tumi Pakkies/ Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 11, 2024


Durban — The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has called on striking eThekwini municipal workers to not allow their demands for salaries to be hijacked by political agendas.

Service delivery in Durban has been compromised since February 27 when workers affiliated with the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) went on an unprotected strike.

They were demanding that their salaries should be benchmarked to the level of other metro municipalities, meaning that workers who were doing the same job at all metros should receive the same grading and salary scale.

Striking employees from the eThekwini Municipality created chaos by closing access to clinics and Sizakala Centres, preventing residents from getting the help they required and intimidating and threatening staff who were on duty.

They scattered household refuse meant to be collected in several areas around the city, creating a health hazard.

Edwin Mkhize, Cosatu secretary in KZN, condemned the violent protests, saying they believed there might have been a third force behind the mayhem.

Mkhize called on workers to not allow their genuine strike to be hijacked by opportunists for political or criminal gains.

“Workers must expose the opportunist agenda so that it must be marginalised and eliminated. I don’t think there is a person who would condone the destruction of water and electricity supply and waste collection services, even though we don’t have evidence that this was done by workers.

“That is why we are saying that if there is a political agenda it must be exposed because it would mean that there is now a third force,” he said.

The KwaZulu-Natal South African Local Government Association (Salga) branch said the striking workers might have been misled.

Salga chairperson Thami Ntuli said the issue of benchmarking salaries of municipalities was under discussion at the SA Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC).

“It was discussed in the bargaining council that salaries of the employees should be increased from curve eight to 10, and it was not yet concluded and implemented.

“Whoever informed workers that there are municipalities who had gone ahead to implement this should be investigated,” said Ntuli.

However, Samwu general secretary Dumisani Magagula said about 10 years ago the municipality had adopted a new grading system, which moved the salary scale of some of its employees to curve 10.

Magagula said the council had agreed in September to sit down with Samwu and finalise the implementation of the new grading.

“The employees are demanding that implementation should be rolled out to all employees in the municipality as some of the employees are already on the new grading system,” he said.

Magagula said Ekurhuleni had already implemented the new grading system.

“If you look at their salaries compared to eThekwini, eThekwini pays much less,” he said.

On Saturday, the municipality announced that workers from its cleansing and waste teams had worked through the night to clear refuse in the Durban CBD.

It was unclear if the strike had been called off as both the municipality and Samwu representatives did not answer their phones.

On Friday, non-striking workers expressed fears for their safety, saying they were being intimidated by their disgruntled colleagues.

A worker at a Sizakala Centre said: “You can come but we close our offices early because we are facing the danger of being attacked by the strikers.

“We cannot tell our customers not to come but if you come here, it is at your own risk as we are working here at our own risk.”

This was despite Samwu leaders saying they had called off the strike following the Durban High Court order which forbade the protesters from “instigating any unlawful, disruptive, or riotous behaviour that may result in damage to any property of the municipality or the public at large” and also “the infringement of the rights of any employee and/or visitor/customer/supplier of the municipality or the public”.

The municipality issued a statement on Thursday saying it was working with law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of its staff and residents “during this time”.

Municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said 79 employees had been served with notices of misconduct for engaging in unlawful conduct “as outlined in the disciplinary procedure collective agreement”.

“These employees, from different units, face various charges in relation to their participation in the unlawful industrial action which started on 27 February. The employees served with misconduct notices are required to make submissions within a period of 10 days stating why they should not be dismissed,” read the statement.

“Furthermore, Samwu has been given an opportunity to provide written submissions as to why an ultimatum should not be issued.”

Sisilana said the City remained committed to urgently reinstating services such as the provision of water and electricity.

“The municipality has received concerning reports regarding members of the public alerting striking workers about teams that are working in various areas to restore services, which has led to the attack of some employees.

Meanwhile, the municipality has opened four landfill sites for residents to dispose of their waste at no charge. They are the Mariannhill landfill site, Bisasar Road landfill site in Springfield, Buffelsdraai landfill site in Verulam, and Illovo landfill site and they would remain open from Monday to Friday between 7am and 4pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 7am to 3.30pm.

Sunday Tribune