The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) joins workers across the world in commemorating International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day. This year we pay homage and salute workers across the world who have been in the frontline fighting to curb the spread of the Coronavirus and taking care of those infected.
As municipal workers, we take this opportunity to convey our heartfelt condolences to the families of workers who have passed away after contracting the virus in the workplace. We salute workers across the world who, despite the risk of contracting the virus in the workplaces have been hard at work ensuring that people do not go hungry, they have water and electricity, they are clothed and transported to different destinations.
For SAMWU, the 1st of May remains a painful and dark which will forever remain in our history books. 18 years ago, the union lost 64 members when the bus they were travelling in plunged into the Saulspoort river while they were en route to attend May Day celebrations in Bethlehem. We take this opportunity to lower our banners in remembrance of our members who perished that day, may their spirits continue to rest in peace!
This year workers across the work are celebrating May Day under different and unusual circumstances as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. The outbreak of this deadly virus has certainly changed our normal way of life and the workplace for workers across the world, including South African Municipal workers.
We therefore take this opportunity to convey our greatest appreciation to municipal workers who have been on duty since the announcement of a nationwide lockdown by government. We salute municipal workers for ensuring that despite the high risk of them contracting the virus, they have ensured that South Africans continue to receive services. Afterall, municipalities are in the coalface of service delivery.
It is shameful that municipalities have been hiding the true extend of the spread of the virus among municipal workers. By our own calculations, we can safely say that close to a hundred municipal workers have contracted the virus, many of them in the workplace.
We take this opportunity to salute all these workers and wish those who have contracted the virus a speedy recovery. As a union, we will be working hard to assist affected employees with making a claim with the Compensation Fund, in line the regulations released by the Department of Labour.
The fact that more and more employees continue to contract the virus at in the workplace is indicative of the lack of readiness and preparedness of municipalities to tackle this pandemic. This spread has further been exacerbated by municipalities’ failure to provide workers with necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
In light of the increase in positive cases and in the interest of the health and safety of municipal workers, SAMWU reiterates its call that municipalities municipal workers should refuse to work when they have not been provided with necessary PPE that they require in order to safely execute their duties.
Some municipalities have even gone to an extend of requesting municipal workers to purchase their own PPEs, we encourage workers not to agree to this call of using their own money to buy PPEs. The purchase and provision of PPE in the workplace remains the responsibility of the employer.
Municipal workers cannot be expected to subsidize operations of their employers, while the very same employers are turning a blind eye on the need to properly remunerate them during this fight against the virus.
We have come to learn that the Waterburg District Municipality in Limpopo has suspended its Head of Health Services, Mr. Mphela who raised serious health and safety violations by the municipality and further refused to work as it was unsafe to do so. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) clearly points out that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that a workplace is safe for all employees.
The very same Act restricts municipalities from victimizing employees who refuse to work under unsafe conditions. We know very well that the municipality targeted this employee as a way of setting an example with his and to further instill fear among other municipal workers in an attempt to force them to work even when PPE is not provided and to silence them from raising health and safety issues in the workplace.
We condemn actions by the Waterburg District Municipality and any municipality which may think it is fashionable to follow suit. The country’s labour laws, in particular OHSA is clear on the responsibilities of the employer with regards to the health and safety of workers in the workplace.
SAMWU not sit idle and allow municipalities to gamble with the health and safety of workers as a result of their unwillingness to provide workers with PPEs. It is for this reason that the union is demanding the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Mr. Mphela failure to do so by the municipality would be a declaration of war, a war that municipal workers are ready and willing to fight right to the bitter end.
Despite the great work that has been done by municipal workers during this pandemic, the response of the employer body, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) has been nothing but a spit in the faces of workers and showing workers the middle finger, something which the employer body has become synonymous with.
According to SALGA, municipal workers who are at great risk of contract the virus, risking their health and safety along with that of their families only deserve an allowance of R470. To make matters worse, most municipalities have not been paying workers for the overtime which they have worked during the lockdown, some have not even bothered to communicate or make commitment as to when overtime due to employees would be paid.
SAMWU has rejected the amount offered by SALGA as a risk allowance for frontline employees, we believe that there is a greater need for discussions by parties in the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) on quantifying a just and fair amount which should be paid to municipal workers. As for the R470, that is vehemently rejected, it is an insult to our members and municipal workers in general.
We are also calling on all municipalities to immediately pay workers for the overtime worked during this period. As for municipalities which are not able to pay immediately, they should be communicating with workers and making commitments with concrete dates of when workers would be receiving what is due to them.
In the absence of payments or commitments, we call on our members to refuse to work any overtime as they clearly would not be compensated but rather become slave workers for municipalities. The union will not allow municipal workers to be used like that, they are people with families, they have worked and as such they need to be paid what is due to them.
In commemorating this year’s May Day, we reflect on the challenges faced by municipal workers and municipalities on a daily basis. It is in the interest of all stakeholders in the local government sector, including SAMWU, workers, municipalities and communities that municipalities are properly and efficiently run.
In the interest of service delivery, SAMWU is interested in seeing municipalities that are able to optimally deliver services to South Africans. Afterall, we are community members before we are municipal workers.
We further want to see municipalities which employ workers directly and on a permanent basis. It has become evident that the delivery of services through the tender and contract systems have not been in the interest of service delivery but rather filling pockets of individuals with money, the same people who exploit workers.
For municipalities to optimally function, municipalities should stop the delivery of services through the use of Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP). This programme and those similar to it have been nothing but a conveyor belt for cheap labour to municipalities, as such municipalities are no longer filling vacancies but relying on EPWP and similar programmes for the delivery of services.
EPWP was introduced as a poverty alleviation programme but the application of it has been nothing but exploitative. We therefore believe that in the interest of service delivery, municipalities should be employing people permanently and directly, including the absorption of all EPWP workers.
Municipalities have become a breeding ground for corruption, as highlighted repeatedly when the Auditor General releases municipal audit outcomes. SAMWU is interested in seeing municipalities that are free from corruption and where those responsible for looting and wasting the much needed municipal resources are held personally and criminally liable.
It is no secret that the challenges faced by municipalities are financial in nature, most municipalities are not able to generate the required revenue to fully and optimally function as a result of the population they serve.
SAMWU has and continues to be of the view that municipalities do not exist for profit making but the delivery of services. Those who cannot pay for services should not be excluded on the basis of their financial situation, a situation which is not of their own making.
We are of the view that these challenges faced by municipalities can be addressed properly by giving a fairer and just equitable share to municipalities to address the challenges faced. It can’t be that municipalities are expected to deliver services to all South Africans on a budget of less than 10% of government expenditure.
Municipalities are not only municipal workers’ livelihoods, they are the only hope of many South Africans in the delivery of services. We therefore are interested in seeing municipalities which work for South Africans, when municipalities work, South Africa will work.
We once more wish workers a happy International Workers’ Day. We call on municipal workers to join us in the fight to improve the conditions of service for all in the sector. Ours is to continue with the struggle of ensuring that the interests of municipal workers are championed daily.
A luta continua!
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)