The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) once more thanks members and municipal workers in general who are in the forefront of ensuring that there is continuation of services to South Africans during the 21-day lockdown as announced by the country’s President.
Since the announcement of the lockdown, we have been inundated with calls from our members on four issues being; forced leave, municipalities’ failures to put in place adequate safety measures for workers, payment of overtime and remuneration abased on the risk that municipal workers are exposed to.
On forced leave
Workers have reported that municipalities have been forcing them to apply for leave during these 21-day lockdown as they would not be on duty for entire duration. These are days that workers have accumulated and as such they cannot be taken away from them as a result of an unfortunate global disaster which is not of their own making.
We once again reiterate our call that municipal workers should refuse to sign any leave forms even when they return to work after the lockdown, they should not allow themselves to be bullied or coerced into signing any leave form.
It has also been reported to the union that there are municipalities which have taken a proactive approach and cancelled all leave which had been granted to employees prior to the announcement of lockdown.
We therefore call on all municipalities to do the same and cancel all leave granted and return those days to workers as they are already at home for the duration of the lockdown.
We further call on municipalities to pay workers their salaries in full, including all benefits they are entitled to in line with their conditions of employment.
On health and safety of workers
It has also come to our attention that 12 days into the lockdown, there are some municipalities which still have not put in place adequate safety measures for workers to minimize their exposure to the virus. Incidents of victimization have also been recorded wherein supervisors have marked employees who refused to work in unsafe environments as absent even though those employees were at their workstations but could not perform their duties as a result of the failure of the municipality ensure a safe working environment for employees.
We reiterate our earlier stance that in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure and maintain a working environment which is safe for workers. This very same act prohibits employers from victimizing workers or reducing their salaries for refusing to work in unsafe environments.
We again repeat our call to our members and other municipal workers that should the environment which they are working at be not safe for their health or should it be that they have not been provided with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they should refuse to work.
No PPE, No work!
On overtime payment
We have also received report from workers that they have been working more than their regular working hours as set out in their contracts of employment. According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, anything outside of the normal working hours of employees as agreed to in their contact of employment constitutes overtime.
Workers have further reported that there has been no communication or commitment by the employer on how or when these employees would be remunerated for the extra hours worked. The failure by municipalities to communicate with employees not only demoralizes workers but will definitely result in workers simply refusing to work outside the working hours which are set out in their contract of employment.
We therefore call on municipalities to immediately communicate with employees on how and when these workers will be paid for the extra hours which they would have worked during this lockdown period.
On risk allowance
Of great concern to our members has been the fact that they are now exposed to risks which they ordinarily would have not been exposed to had it not been for the global disaster which has now become a reality for South Africans.
Our structures in some municipalities have already taken the initiative to engage with municipal management directly on the need to pay workers who are at risk of exposure an allowance as they ordinarily do not receive this type of allowance but the need for payment is necessitated by the current situation faced by municipal workers who are in the coalface of service delivery.
It should be noted that the signed agreements between the union and the employer body at national level, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) do not have a provision for workers to be paid such an allowance as such a situation which South Africa and the world face was never envisaged. In the same breath, the same agreements have not envisaged a situation wherein municipal workers would be at a risk of contracting a deadly virus while on duty.
We therefore condemn comments by SALGA KZN representative, Johan Greveling who through a video message had been urging municipalities not to pay municipal workers any form of allowance for work done during the 21-day lockdown.
Comments by Mr. Greveling do not come to us as a surprise, we know very well that the employer body has never had the interests of municipal workers at heart, theirs is to get huge bonuses for ensuring that municipal workers get as little money as possible, including in salary and wage negotiations.
We therefore call on municipalities to ensure that dialogue is created on this issue to ensure that workers are motivated to go to work and further to ensure that municipalities adhere to the regulations put in place for essential workers.
The situation we currently find ourselves in has definitely come with lessons and experiences for workers’ movements and as such there is a greater need to ensure that the collective agreements in place are renegotiated to include unforeseen circumstances such as the one we currently face.
Issued by SAMWU Secretariat
Koena Ramotlou, General Secretary (073 254 9394), Dumisane Magagula, Deputy General Secretary (084 806 4005) or Papikie Mohale, National Media Officer (073 710 0356).