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MUNICIPAL CRISIS

Tshwane wins permanent interdict against striking workers, but wage dispute rumbles on

Tshwane wins permanent interdict against striking workers, but wage dispute rumbles on
Ilustrative image: (Photos: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe | Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

While the strike in the City of Tshwane has ‘legally’ ended, pockets of workers continue to protest and the municipality holds out on paying wage increases.

Tshwane’s municipal strike, which led to the collapse of some service delivery functions, has “legally” come to an end, but the city is still grappling with pockets of employees that remain on strike. 

The protracted strike affected not only service delivery, but also the city’s ability to collect revenue, further crippling its financial position as it had already been battling to pay its creditors, including Eskom and Rand Water.  

Workers affiliated with the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) have been on strike since 26 July demanding a 5.4% increase, the last phase of a three-year wage agreement signed at the South African Local Government Bargaining Council in 2021.

City management has maintained that it cannot afford a salary increase this year because its R45-billion-plus budget for the 2023/24 financial year was underfunded.

Now, two months after the strike began, there are fears that the city might face “total financial collapse” by March 2024 if it is not bailed out by the National Treasury and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tshwane municipality wilting under bad finances and scandal 

Cope councillor Ofentse Moalusi warned that the city’s reserves were critically low and if no intervention was made, municipal workers would be the casualties.

“Unless both the national and provincial governments intervene in the financial affairs of the City of Tshwane, the city will run out of the cash reserves to pay the salaries of its employees, including the councillors, before the end of March 2024.

“Our workers must brace themselves for even tougher times in the next few months. The hardships experienced by our workers in the past financial year are nothing compared to what is about to unfold in the next six months,” he said.

City spokesperson Selby Bokaba was, however, optimistic that the metro would be out of the woods once the strike was completely over.

“Eighty-six percent of the city’s budget is self-funded and the rest is made up of grants. Budget is based on a projection of revenue that we will realistically collect from customers. It’s true that collection has been low in the last two months or so due to the strike, but Tshwane is in full swing and will be ramped up once the strike is over,” Bokaba said.

The city unsuccessfully approached the SA Local Government Bargaining Council to apply for an exemption on the pay increase. The labour court, meanwhile, granted it a permanent interdict against striking employees. So far, the city has dismissed more than 100 employees and has not ruled out the possibility of axing more workers.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tshwane councillors call on mayor to honour wage increase order as city holds out for appeal

“Currently there are 123 dismissals; other dismissals are in the pipeline. We are managing the strike and provision of service delivery impacted by the strike. Though the strike is legally over, however, quite a few employees are still on strike, especially in Regions 1, 3, 4 and 6,” Bokaba said. 

EFF, ActionSA call for dialogue

The EFF remains in full support of the striking workers. On Thursday, the party is expected to hold a picket in solidarity with the 123 dismissed workers. 

A red berets councillor, who asked not to be named, accused Executive Mayor Cilliers Brink of being arrogant and his administration of lacking the necessary political will to resolve the impasse. 

“We are convinced that the mayor is not interested in honouring the issue of workers. The argument that the city does not have money is flawed, because the city continues to spend money on tenders that were not budgeted for.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Vehicles torched, buses recalled — DA calls for police in Tshwane strike 

The EFF was confident that the impasse would soon be resolved as it argued that ActionSA too was on the side of the workers. ActionSA is part of the coalition that governs the city.

“ActionSA is starting to come on board, and without them, they can’t govern. We have a mayor who runs the city as if it’s two people who always want to compete. Every time he speaks, he speaks about how he is those who came before him, and how he won’t be bullied, that is the mentality and approach, it may work in Cape Town but here in Tshwane, it won’t work,” the EFF councillor said.

In a bid to resolve the impasse, ActionSA’s provincial chairperson, Funzi Ngobeni, met the leadership of Samwu. The party said there was a need for engagement as residents were the biggest losers.

“ActionSA does not believe there are any winners in the current strike action as relations between the unions and the city deteriorate, and ultimately, the residents of Tshwane are the biggest losers due to no refuse removal and other basic services,” Ngobeni said.

“It is not good enough for Brink and the DA to force residents to live without refuse removal or other basic services in order to avoid the rational need to sit down and engage the unions in order to achieve the compromise that gets service delivery back again. It is also not acceptable for the city to ignore the soaring cost of living that municipal workers, like all other South Africans, experience,” he said.

During a heated council meeting on 13 September, Brink reiterated that it was not financially feasible to grant the increases and warned the council not to overstep its functions.

“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.

What now for Tshwane? 

Asked if the city had gone back to the table for possible renegotiation with the unions, Bokaba said: “The city has been granted a permanent interdict against striking employees by the labour court. The formal engagement platform was at the bargaining council.”

Samwu’s regional secretary, Precious Theledi, said although its members had stopped striking, the union would not give up the 5.4% increment demand.

“There are some interventions that we are busy with. We attended a section 150 [meeting] with the CCMA for intervention and we also spoke to political parties in council for assistance. We are hoping that the city will come closer, back to the negotiating table.”  

Theledi said: “There is no way that we are renegotiating with the city; they signed a collective agreement, so they must pay. We are willing to meet them halfway.”

Theledi said meeting halfway would mean negotiating the format in which the increment was paid and not its reduction.

Bokaba said a total of 255 vehicles belonging to the city were torched during a series of protests which turned violent. The city has not yet quantified the damages nor the monetary value.

“We will only, at the end of the strike, be in a position to check with our insurers how much the strike has cost us as well the monetary damage to the assets,” he said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    “if no intervention was made, municipal workers would be the casualties”

    …will anyone notice? In fact, given the bloated and crippling wage bills it is likely essential if the council is to ever be effective.

  • Ben Harper says:

    South African Public Service, the most overpaid and least productive public service in the world

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