The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) has noted with great concern that municipalities have been failing dismally to protect the health and safety of municipal workers, including the failure to provide them with necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required for the safe execution of their duties.
This failure by municipalities has resulted in a sharp increase in municipal workers testing positive for Covid-19, a reality which has begun to cause panic and alarm in the Local Government sector.
In line with government regulation prohibiting gatherings, on the 6th May, the union held a telephonic Special National Executive Committee (SNEC) which was attended by all provincial structures and the union’s National Office Bearers to among others, receive reports from structures on the readiness and preparedness of municipalities to recall workers as the country has already moved to level 4 of the lockdown.
The SNEC was also convened so that a constitutional structure can formulate the union’s response to;
· The Covid-19 pandemic,
· Municipal Solidarity Fund
· Collective bargaining
· Organisational matters.
Response to Covid-19 in the workplace
The SNEC has noted with serious concern the attitude and posture of the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who has failed, as a Minister who is the custodian of the country’s municipalities to ensure that there is compliance to the regulations which her department has formulated.
Our pleas to get the Minister to intervene in instances where municipalities have been failing on their constitutional mandates have not been responded to, thus creating an environment wherein municipalities are deliberately sending municipal workers to slaughterhouses.
The increase in positive cases among municipal workers is of great concern to us and should be for the Minister, yet the seeming reality is that she and the department are not concerned at all for the health and safety of municipal workers. These are workers who are in the coalface of service delivery.
With the easing of restrictions and a move to level 4, which has resulted in municipal workers being recalled to back to work, we all should be concerned that since municipalities have failed to ensure the health and safety of workers in level 5, the situation will only worsen for workers with the likelihood of an increase in the number of registered positive cases.
To make matters worse, municipalities have deliberately been hiding the true reality being faced by residents and municipal workers by manipulating the exact numbers of positive infections among municipal workers.
The number of positive cases among workers continue to rise particularly in the Western Cape which now accounts for almost 50% of the country’s positive cases and a majority of them being found in the epicentre of the pandemic being the City of Cape Town.
Instead of addressing the challenges faced by the City and ensuring the health and safety of workers, the City of Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato has threatened to lay a criminal charge against the union and a newspaper publication which reported on the contents of the statements we released exposing the true extend of the pandemic and the lies being paddled by the City.
We remain undeterred and unshaken, we will not be silenced by the City or any municipality, they should go ahead and lay those charges. While they are at it, they should tell the courts and the nation the real reasons for the deceit and lies they have been peddling in an attempt to coverup the true extend faced by the City and in particular municipal workers.
At the Masiphumelele Clinic in Fish Hoek and Ocean View Clinic, the City had forced health workers to report to duty despite testing positive for the virus thus compromising the health and safety of other health workers and residents. It was only after the intervention of the union that, in the interest of public health, these workers were quarantined.
At the Khayelitsha Nolungile Clinic, health workers requested to be screened and tested only for them to be humiliated and victimised by management and further told that if they want to keep their jobs, they should continue working.
Management at the Hazelden Clinic have also been victimizing health workers for requesting to be tested after a security officer tested positive. Instead the City tells workers that they will only be tested after 14 days.
Municipal workers have reported to the union that they have to literally beg management before they can be issued with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that is required for them to safely execute their duties.
The SNEC resolved that all municipal workers should be provided with adequate PPE as is required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), the guidelines of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the Department of Labour which has directed all employers including municipalities should ensure that workers are provided with at least two masks.
The SNEC is of the view that where necessary PPE is not provided to municipal workers, those workers should refuse to work. With the continued noncompliance by municipalities, the union will in the midst of the lockdown be coming up with creative way of getting mandate from members.
We cannot allow a situation wherein workers are intentionally sent to slaughterhouses, if needs be, municipal workers are prepared to fully withdraw their labour until such a time that their health and safety can be guaranteed by the employer.
The meeting also resolved that, as workers are gradually returning to work, all municipalities should ensure that in the interest of public health and that of municipal workers, municipalities should ensure that all workers are screened and tested. All costs related to screening and testing should be borne by municipalities, including medical expenses of municipal workers who test positive.
The SNEC received a report that the employer body, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) has set up a Solidarity Fund for the local government Sector. According to SALGA, this Solidarity Fund will be created in all municipalities with contributions from Councillors, management, residents and municipal workers.
Various contribution methods have been presented for workers, this includes;
· Leave encashment, wherein employees within the scope of the SALGBC will encash 2 leave days in of the Municipal Solidarity Fund,
· Salary increase pledge, wherein Councillors, management and municipal workers would pledge the salary increase which they are supposed to receive in favour of the Solidarity Fund for 3 months.
SAMWU is not opposed to finding ways to assist South Africans with navigating through the tough times that the country is currently enduring, this particularly given the fact that the President has cautioned the nation that “the worst is yet to come.” This seemingly suggests that the economic hardship faced by South Africans will be felt for many more months to come.
We however do not believe municipalities can be trusted with money especially residents and workers’ money. The Auditor General has continuously found that municipalities have become a breeding ground for corruption and serious maladministration and as such the funds raised through this fund are susceptible to the looting and plunder which we is widely seen in municipalities on a daily basis.
There has also not been an indication as to whether tenderpreneurs who have received massive contracts from municipalities, including those who have benefitted through corruption were invited to contribute to this fund. The SNEC encourages SALGA to ensure that these individuals are personally invited to give back to communities, as they have amassed great wealth at the expense of service delivery.
When the first Solidarity Fund was announced by the President, the union was taken aback when certain mayors wanted to force municipal workers to participate in their salary cut challenges. The union outrightly and correctly so rejected the forced involvement of municipal workers in populistic and opportunistic challenges.
Given the material conditions faced by municipal workers, SNEC reiterates earlier pronouncements by the union that municipal workers would not be participating in any salary cut challenge through a forced blanket approach which includes cohesion and lack of consultation.
We obviously would not force workers not to contribute to the fund and as such encourage municipal workers who are able to, and out of their own freewill to contribute whatever amount they can. Contributions to the Fund should however be voluntary, no workers should be forced into contributing to the fund by the employer.
We in fact encourage workers who are willing to contribute, to rather contribute to the National Solidarity Fund announced by the President as we believe that their hard-earned money is less likely to be looted there given the reality faced in municipalities.
As a result of this global pandemic, frontline municipal workers are exposed to contracting the virus in the workplace. It is only fair that municipal workers are paid a risk allowance for the work that they have been doing and in continuation of delivery of services.
The SNEC deliberated on a circular by the employer body SALGA directing municipalities to consider paying frontline municipal workers an allowance of R470 as a risk allowance. We consider this proposed amount an insult and a spit in the faces of municipal workers who have been doing a great job during the lockdown, ensuring a continuity in services for South Africans who need them the most.
The circular from SALGA follows a communique from SALGA KZN division wherein its representative, Johan Greveling urged municipalities not to pay workers any allowance as they are under no legal obligation to do so.
We appreciate the fact that indeed none of the collective agreements between the parties in the SALGBC has envisaged the situation which the country and municipal workers currently find themselves in.
This situation has definitely come with lessons and experiences for the union and as such there is a greater need to ensure that the collective agreements which are currently in place are renegotiated in the interest of the sector, municipal workers and to include situations as the one we currently find ourselves in.
The SNEC therefore resolved that an urgent request for special meetings of the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) and the Amanzi Bargaining Council (ABC) should be made with the intention of opening up discussions for the demand to compensate municipal workers who in the frontlines during the pandemic.
The SNEC has resolved that an amount of R3000 is a fair and just amount which municipal workers should receive in lieu of a risk allowance.
It has also come to our attention that despite the great work that municipal workers have been doing during the lockdown, most municipalities are yet to pay workers for the overtime which they worked. Some municipalities have not even bothered to communicate with workers as to when the overtime they worked will be paid.
The SNEC therefore calls on municipalities to immediately pay workers for the overtime worked. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act is clear as to what constitutes overtime and such workers should be paid what is due to them.
In the absence of payments or commitments to pay overtime, municipal workers should not work any longer than they are supposed to in line with their contracts of employment.
The SNEC also received reports that some municipalities have been tampering with the conditions of service of municipal workers. These instances includes municipalities forcing workers to forfeit some of the allowances which they are legally and contractually entitled to. We send out a strong caution to municipalities that they should at all cost avoid tampering with any of the conditions of service that municipal workers are entitled to.
The SNEC lastly thanks municipal workers for the great work that they have been doing during the lockdown. We have been inundated with messages of appreciation from South Africans for the great work done. It is only the SALGA and COGTA who do not see or appreciate the great work and sacrifices made. South Africans see and appreciate you!
We further wish a speedy recovery to workers who have contracted the virus and send our sincere and heartfelt condolences to those who have lost their loved ones as a result of this virus.
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)