Tshwane councillors call on mayor to honour wage increase order as city holds out for appeal
Despite increasing pressure, Tshwane Mayor Cilliers Brink says the city won’t implement a 5.4% salary increase for workers, which could cost the municipality R600-million.
The axing of more than 123 municipal workers involved in an illegal and unprotected strike by the cash-strapped City of Tshwane took centre stage during an ordinary council meeting on Tuesday, 12 September, despite not being on the agenda.
During the meeting, which had to be held virtually to avoid the chaos and violence of previous sittings, the council and Executive Mayor Cilliers Brink were at loggerheads over the handling of the ongoing strike and the bargaining council’s order for the city to immediately honour a 2021 agreement and grant workers a 5.4% salary increase.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Tshwane metro’s wage increase exemption application rejected by bargaining council
To honour the agreement, the city needs R600-million, which it has indicated it cannot afford as it is also battling to pay its creditors, including Eskom and Rand Water.
Following the South African Local Bargaining Council’s (SALGBC) order on Monday, Brink immediately indicated there were grounds to appeal against the decision, a move which was heavily criticised by some councillors during Tuesday’s meeting.
EFF’s caucus leader and councillor, Obakeng Ramabodu, said: “We are saying as the EFF that they must not even start to review that decision. We are the executive authority as council. They must come to us and ask what must happen [going forward]. We have said that the conditions in the city are now abnormal, us as [the] executive council must intervene.”
Brink was of a different view as he stuck to his guns, maintaining it was not financially feasible to grant the increases and that the city would forge ahead with the decision to review SALGBC’s order, as agreed with the city manager.
Brink also reminded the council of the separation of powers and functions of their duties.
“I think it would be inappropriate for the council to become involved in individual labour disputes to entertain demands for certain actions to be taken and for us to make decisions that will have budgetary implications outside of the budget cycle,” he said.
DA caucus spokesperson Kwena Moloto was in full agreement with Brink, also from the DA, adding that agreeing with the bargaining council decision would mean having to cut several costs and projects.
“The stark reality is that the City of Tshwane cannot bear the staggering burden of an additional R600-million resulting from this increase, which would be imposed on its already strained salary bill.
“Consequently, we stand at a critical crossroads. To comply with the bargaining council’s decision, the municipality would be compelled to make severe cuts to essential services, leading to a significant reduction in funds allocated for street lighting, pothole repairs and grass cutting. Furthermore, this would force the suspension of crucial capital projects intended to ensure a stable water supply and consistent electricity supply,” Moloto said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: City of Tshwane vows to stick to staff salary freeze despite strikes
Workers affiliated with the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) have been on strike since 26 July 2023 demanding a 5.4% increase, the last phase of a three-year wage agreement signed in the SALGBC in 2021.
City management has, however, maintained that it cannot afford a salary increase this year as the city’s R45-billion-plus budget for the 2023/24 financial year was underfunded.
SALGBC said that although it was clear that the city was currently in financial distress, with major liquidity problems, as indicated by National Treasury mid-term recommendations, an Auditor-General’s report and a Moody’s report, there were prospects, based on financial statements, that it would be in a better financial position in the months to come.
“The 2022/23 annual financial statements do, however, indicate a slight improvement, but there are still challenges in relation to liquidity and being in a position to pay creditors. However, the budget for 2023/24, and I hasten to add that a budget projection indicates an overall increase in expenditure and income of 6%, and thus it is anticipated that these measures will go a long way to ameliorate the applicant’s financial predicament,” said SALGBC’s senior commissioner Eleanor Hambidge.
Briefing the media on Tuesday, Samwu general secretary Dumisane Magagula said workers had been short-changed by losing out on the accrued increases.
“Our members are simply failing to make ends meet as a result of being short-changed by their own employer … It is the union’s firm view that the city wants the union to subsidise the operations of the city by interrupting certain legs of the collective agreement,” Magagula said.
The protracted strike by Samwu employees has crippled several service delivery functions, including halting the metro’s bus service, waste collection and clinics, where staff and patients were forced out of the buildings.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Financially distressed Tshwane battles with ongoing strike, water shortages and service delivery failures
In an attempt to halt the strike, the city approached the labour court, which ruled in its favour and declared the strike action unlawful and unprotected. It ordered the striking employees to disperse and stop participating in the unlawful strike. This, however, did not transpire and the strike turned violent.
In one incident, over a week ago, two waste removal trucks were set alight, leading some service providers to withhold their services for safety reasons.
A total of 123 employees have since been axed for participating in the strike, and some face criminal charges over public violence and harassment of co-workers. During the council sitting on Tuesday, the EFF demanded that the city reinstate the workers or risk causing more trouble in the capital.
In addition to the axing, the city has also recalled the salaries of workers who reported for duty by signing in and out of the attendance register but failed to execute their duties.
Samwu’s regional secretary, Precious Theledi, confirmed that more than 400 members had been affected by the city’s decision to recall salaries, insisting the members in question had been on leave, sick or had simply forgotten to sign the work attendance register.
“We have said very clearly to the Speaker that they must reinstate those workers; if they do not, they are opening up chances for opportunistic elements to destroy the properties of the city knowing that they are going to tenders.”
Magagula confirmed that the union would challenge the axing of the workers in court and denied Samwu’s involvement in the strike.
Speaker Mncedi Ndzwanana also came under fire on Monday from fellow councillors, who accused him of staying silent while the city battled crisis after crisis.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Trouble with a capital T – Jacaranda City municipality is wilting under bad finances and scandal
“What is your view about this mess in the city? Are you just not going to say anything? We have never seen this before. We are appealing to you, and you must also have views, you are the speaker,” Ramabodu asked him.
Ndzwanana said he was not turning a blind eye to the challenges the city was grappling with and had approached Brink and his executive to raise his concerns. He appealed for calm and for councillors to allow due processes to unfold.
“Councillors, we recognise the current conditions of the city. I plead that we allow due process to take place within the confines of the law and as the speaker, I recognise and I take note of the ruling by bargaining council and other legal processes related to the issue of workers. I have stated previously that dialogue should continue until we stabilise the city.” DM