STATE OF OUR CITIES
Cash-strapped Tshwane targets service delivery backlog after municipal strike ends
Mayor Cilliers Brink says the City of Tshwane aims to clear the service delivery backlog after finding some common ground with unions who fought a protracted battle for wage increases.
The cash-strapped City of Tshwane is working on a catch-up programme to restore critical service delivery functions which had come to a halt as a result of a four-month municipal strike which has now come to an end.
On 26 July, thousands of municipal workers downed tools 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.
To honour the agreement, the city needs R600-million, which it has said it cannot afford as it is also battling to pay its creditors, including Eskom and Rand Water.
The strike led to the collapse of services including waste collection, attending to electricity and water outages, and fixing leaks, potholes and streetlights. It turned violent and 255 vehicles belonging to the city were torched.
The strike also affected the city’s ability to collect revenue, further crippling its financial position.
In September, the city unsuccessfully applied to be exempt from paying municipal workers’ salary increases to more than 29,000 employees for the 2022/23 financial year.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Tshwane metro’s wage increase exemption application rejected by bargaining council
On Monday, 13 November, Executive Mayor Cilliers Brink said, “The strike is largely over in the capital city. Of course, there might still be isolated instances of violence and intimidation … but most folks are back at work. Most of the buses are back on their routes, and now the very difficult work begins of clearing the backlog, and we have to acknowledge that there is still a backlog.”
Brink’s sentiments came after the city and labour unions SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) went back to the negotiation table after the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) initiated a Section 150 intervention to mediate the strike.
In a joint statement, the city and the two unions said they “unconditionally denounce all acts of intimidation and violence, which have resulted in the damage to the City of Tshwane’s property, the interruption of municipal services and the negative impact on the health, safety and wellness of staff including the health, safety and security of the residents of the City of Tshwane. The parties wish to call on all workers to return to work in a bid to restore normality to the municipality.”
The mediation process continues. Samwu representatives were relieved to be back at the negotiation table, but expressed concerns about a possible failure to reach an agreement.
“The city has consistently negotiated in bad faith, offering a 0% increase. We hope that this time around workers will be the winners,” said a union official who wasn’t authorised to speak publicly due to the ongoing CCMA process.
The city’s management has maintained that it cannot afford a salary increase this year because its R45-billion budget for the 2023/24 financial year was underfunded.
Brink said work was under way to address the backlogs.
“I am working with the city manager on a catch-up programme. But it is important that we savour this, and say we reject violence and stick to the principles that apply to labour relations and that we are fully committed to doing the work and building a capital city that we can all be proud of,” Brink said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: City of Tshwane vows to stick to staff salary freeze despite strikes
City spokesperson Selby Bokaba said all employees had returned to work and were executing their duties, with basic services gradually returning to normal.
“The Tshwane Bus Services, whose operations ground to a halt during the strike, due to intimidation directed towards the non-striking bus drivers, are back to full capacity. The customer care walk-in centres and clinics have also resumed full services and are functioning optimally,” Bokaba said.
City manager Johann Mettler expressed relief at the end of the strike. “We’re relieved that the strike, which was marred by violence, intimidation and destruction of municipal property, is finally over and services have resumed in earnest.
“The city is gradually rediscovering its mojo and is living its motto of ‘Igniting excellence’. We are building a city that works for all its people,” Mettler said.
In addition to being unable to pay wage increases, the city decided to stagger the payment of a 13th cheque to all workers over a three-month period. This was necessitated by its failure to meet the revenue collection target, which stood at 82.02% in July before dropping to 76.08% in August. DM