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Johannesburg grapples with mounting trash crisis amid Pikitup strike

Johannesburg grapples with mounting trash crisis amid Pikitup strike
Waste can be seen piling up in New Doornfontein and other parts of Johannesburg after Pikitup temporary workers downed tools on 16 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Waste collection has ground to a halt in parts of Johannesburg amidst a strike by the refuse collection company Pikitup’s contracted workers, who are demanding fair wages and permanent employment. 

Temporary workers at Pikitup in Johannesburg went on strike on Monday, saying the refuse collection company was exploiting them and selling jobs to contractors.

“The employees’ challenges include the casuals who felt they deserved to be part of the recruitment process,” Pikitup managing director Bukelwa Njingolo said.

She said they told the striking workers that the company had embarked on a recruitment drive, the first phase of which was initiated in December.

“The appointment of those [workers] occurred in the past week so the next phase will be initiated now … and … concluded in June,” said Njilongo.

She said the current recruitment drive would see an intake of 300 workers.

“We do believe that we could look at consideration for those who are in partnership with Pikitup.”

Njilongo said Pikitup was assisted by public works programmes (PWPs) and had a database of 101 cooperatives, with 3,000 PWPs under those cooperatives. “Those are contracted with cooperatives and not directly with Pikitup and there are no direct contracts with Pikitup,” Njilongo said.


Pikitup temporary workers in Johannesburg have been on strike since 20 May 2024. (Photo:Felix Dlangamandla)

Recruitment process investigation 

Johannesburg City Manager Floyd Brink said the city was aware of the allegations surrounding the recruitment process within Pikitup. “I have directed that there should be an independent investigator to be appointed specifically to uncover the truth,” Brink said.

“The managing director has made us aware that by this afternoon [Wednesday] the independent investigator will be appointed and they will be working on tight timelines in order for us to be able to close this particular item and provide feedback.”

The company said seven of its 12 waste collection depots in the city were fully operational and that the police had made five arrests in connection with the strike.

“I want to assure you that we are working tirelessly with our management team to ensure that we address this particular issue and for us to be able to come up with a specific solution and recovery plan,” Brink said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Waste is one of Joburg’s biggest environmental challenges, says councillor

On Monday, the city obtained a court interdict against the striking workers. According to the city, this was to ensure the safety of its employees and to ensure the continuation of waste collection and management services in the city.

The interdict bars striking workers from blocking the entrance to the city’s waste collection depots. It also prohibits the disruption of the city’s services and intimidating, harassing and threatening the city’s employees with violence.

Pikitup strike

Garbage piles up on Johannesburg streets in the wake of the Pikitup strike.(Photo:Felix Dlangamandla)

There will be consequences 

“If any wrongdoing is found, action will be taken against those implicated,” Brink said. “Where illegal acts have been committed in the furtherance of this particular strike we will be taking action against those officials and those workers.”

Brink said while disciplinary measures would be enforced, Pikitup employees’ rights to protest were protected. “But these rights must be exercised within the confines of the law and without destroying any of our assets and infrastructure,” he said.

The most affected depots include Norwood, Marlboro, Waterval, Selby, Randburg, Midrand and Diepsloot, where workers were protesting outside the gates.

“We are negotiating with the employees before engaging [with the SA Police Service and the Johannesburg Metro Police Department] to go and remove them so that we get to understand their challenges,” Njilongo said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Shaun Pastor says:

    You know, I’ve always had this view about strikes and what kind of people strike to get a point across. Strikes cripple any economy, so why do it. If I have a problem at work I go see my superior and expect him to come up with a solution or I go work somewhere else. Why stay at the same company you are crippling and hope to get on the boss’ good side by striking. I have always held the view that if I have a problem I will log it with management and if I can get 10% of the workforce to log it as well, management needs to come up with an answer by the following Team meeting. I am sure there is someone out there that has written a book on problem solving in the workplace and how it is implemented but to see all these businesses being crippled by there (weak labor force) is upsetting at the least. In all my time as a worker in industry across various platforms in South Africa I have just never seen the purpose of a strike as other than hatred for the company. Maybe it is because I was raised with strict standards and was taught to obey superiors, hoping they are making the right decision. Now yes I am sure there are millions of people that will tell me I’m talking nonsense, but that is just it. People’s opinions. They don’t run a company, they are just opinions. Look at Eskom for instance. Instead of getting trained workers to fill the positions they get taken for a ride by there workers, instead of enforcing a standard of practices. I still firmly believe striking is a reflection on what kind of worker you are and it is the best way to cripple a company. They should label it sabotage. If you don’t like the place you work for, and you are qualified enough, go get another job. I used to work on 3 month contracts for companies. If I like the place, I extend my contract, otherwise move on to the next place. Keep doing this until you find the place you are happy with and stay there. No need for striking the whole time just because you don’t want to move and expect your boss to listen to your every whim. That’s not how businesses operate. Or is this just a fantasy in people’s minds………….?

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