On Friday 10 July 2020, the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) held a virtual Special National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting. The Special NEC was held just a few days after the union received reports that over 63 municipal workers have unfortunately succumbed to the virus while a further 4571 have been confirmed as positive.
The NEC sent its heartfelt condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of the fallen municipal workers, our thoughts and prayers are with them during these difficult times. The NEC further wished speedy recovery to all workers to are still battling with the virus.
The meeting was called specifically deal with the following items;
· Extension of the main collective agreement
· SALGBC salary and wage collective agreement
· Amanzi Bargaining Council salary and wage negotiations
· Provincial COVID-19 updates
The NEC was convened just a few days after the Auditor General, Kimi Makwethu released the municipal audit outcomes for the 2018/19 financial year. The NEC expressed great concern over the continued regression in municipal audit outcomes. These outcomes paint a bleak future for municipalities, a consequence of which would be failure to continue delivering services to residents unless corrective measures are immediately taken.
Looking at the audit outcomes, there is really nothing to celebrate, only 21 of the country’s 257 municipalities have managed to achieve a clean audit. Fruitless and wasteful expenditure has increased to R4.6 billion, irregular expenditure has ballooned to over R32.6 billion while a further R360 million could not be accounted for as there was insufficient and missing documentation.
As a stakeholder in the sector, we interested in seeing municipalities complying with the provisions of the Municipal Finance Management Act. We further want to see all municipalities obtaining clean audits as is a legal requirement.
It is for this reason that the union demands that all those responsible for the waste, looting and corruption being personally held accountable and liable, these monies should be recouped through the involvement of the Asset Forfeiture Unit and the Special Investigation Unit.
On salary and wage collective agreement
The NEC received a report that the National Treasury had made a presentation in the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) urging municipalities to not comply with the last leg of the 3 year salary and wage agreement that was signed in 2018, which would see municipal workers receiving a 6.25% salary and wage increment effective 01 July 2020.
The NEC expressed great disappointment and anger at the position and presentation of National Treasury. The meeting further viewed the involvement of National Treasury in the Bargaining Council as overreaching, undermining SALGBC parties and sought to collapse collective bargaining. The NEC considered National Treasury’s presentation and position as an attack and a declaration of war against municipal workers.
The NEC is of the view that municipal workers who are by the way, least paid government employees cannot be blamed for rampant corruption and inefficiencies in municipalities along with a global pandemic which are is of their own making.
The National Treasury is not party to the SALGBC and as such cannot dictate on matters of the local government sector, particularly given the fact that municipalities have long been treated as stepchildren of government by National Treasury and had been left to fend for themselves due to the lack of funding.
The NEC further received a report that in a subsequent meeting, the employer body, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) had taken a resolution to heed the call by National Treasury for municipalities to apply for exemption. SALGA has informed parties in the bargaining council that it seeks to renege on last leg of the agreement.
In reneging on the agreement, SALGA sought to reopen salary and wage negotiations on an agreement that had been signed 3 years ago and is in its last year. The following options were presented by SALGA;
1. That there should be a total freeze of the salary increases to be effected as from 1 July 2020;
2. That all employees as per salary and wage agreement to receive an increase of 3.25% as from the 1 July 2020 and a further increase of 3% as from the 1 January 2021;
3. The implementation of the salary and wage increases be deferred to 1 January 2021; and
4. That should the labour parties be prepared to consider at least one of the above proposals, SALGA will in turn be willing to consider trade union demands on Covid-19 incentives as proposed for frontline workers.
The NEC welcomed the union’s total rejection of the above proposals by SALGA, this is a standing and legal agreement which does not need to be renegotiated by rather its immediate implementation.
The union is angered and agitated that following our rejection of the proposals, SALGA immediately wrote to municipalities urging them to individually invoke Clause 11 of the Main Collective Agreement, which makes provisions for a municipality to apply to be exempted from giving workers a salary and wage increase.
The NEC sees this as nothing but a declaration of war, a war which we are ready to fight right to the end in defending the salary and wage collective agreement which is legally and contractually due to municipal workers.
Adding insult to injury is that municipalities have already passed their budgets, included in these budgets are salary increases for Councillors as determined by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers and salary increases for Municipal Managers and senior managers who fall under Section 56 as per the determination of upper limits.
SALGA principals being Councillors will be receiving their salary increments while the country well paid government officials being Municipal Managers will continue swimming in pools of money.
Surely SALGA thinks that municipal workers are easy targets and can be blackmailed into forgoing their salary increments by consistently using the word “retrenchments” with the aim of forcing workers not to demand their salary and wage increments.
We are however encouraged by the large numbers of municipalities which have already written to workers informing them that they will be honouring the salary and wage collective agreement.
The NEC noted that Drakenstein, Stellenbosch, Langeberg, Theewaterskloof, Bergrivier, Swartland, Knysna and Kannanland municipalities have already heeded SALGA’s call and formally applied for exemption.
The NEC further noted intentions by the Ekurhuleni Metro and Amatole District Municipality to apply for exemption.
The NEC expects nothing but implementation of the salary and wage agreement, failure thereof will result in workers taking matters into their own hands. The union will therefore be opposing any municipal application for exemption.
On danger allowance
The union stands by its demand for a danger allowance of a minimum of R3000 which should be paid to all municipal workers who were on duty for the duration of the lockdown. For purposes of clarity, we will henceforth call this demand a covid-19 allowance.
As noted above, SALGA has indicated that they will only entertain the covid-19 allowance if workers forgo their salary increases.
We will not allow SALGA into blackmailing us on this issue, particularly given the fact that municipal workers are on a daily basis being intentionally exposed to the virus by their employers who are supposed to be guaranteeing their health and safety.
Some municipal workers have unfortunately passed away before this matter can even be resolved. We are therefore forging ahead with this demand which should be paid to municipal workers for the duration of the lockdown.
We are encouraged by work that is currently being done at local levels wherein municipalities have been engaging with union leadership on the covid-19 allowance.
On Amanzi bargaining council
The NEC noted work that is being done in the Amanzing Bargaining Council where salaries and wages negotiations of workers in the country’s water boards are continuing.
SAMWU had presented a demand of 9.5% while the employer body had countered with a 4.5% salary increase which they are willing to revise should there be an agreement on allied demands.
A task team of the Amanzi Bargaining Council which has been tasked to deal with allied demands will be meeting on the 17th of July, thereafter parties will be returning to a bargaining committee on the 20th July 2020.
We are currently conducting a mandate taking exercise with our members and trust that these negotiations will be concluded in favour of our members.
On Covid-19 update
The NEC is gravely concerned at the continued number of infections and deaths amongst municipal workers. With close to 5 000 cases, local government leads all sectors of government in terms of infections.
These numbers are a reflection of the challenges faced by municipal workers on a daily basis and how government has neglected this sphere of government, one that is closest to people and in the coalface of service delivery.
The meeting reiterated earlier calls by the union that there should be greater compliance in municipalities as far as the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the lockdown regulations are concerned.
The health and safety of municipal workers cannot be negotiated, it remains the responsibility of municipalities to ensure that municipal workers are properly protected in the workplace for the safe execution of their duties.
It is for this reason that we plead with all municipal workers to not enter the workplace if they have not been provided with the necessary PPE and where their health and safety cannot be guaranteed. Service delivery should not come at the expense of the lives of municipal workers and those of their families.
We are convinced that the increase in positive cases is as a result of the failure by municipalities to properly protect workers. The NEC, therefore, resolved that the Department of Labour and Employment should be roped in when the union conducts oversight visits.
By law, the department is empowered to close down any office or business establishment that does not comply with the OHSA and lockdown regulations. Municipalities are not exempt from this and as such we expect closures where non-compliance is identified.
Most importantly though, workers should simply refuse to work when it is not safe to do so, these are provisions made by the Department of Labour and Employment. Workers should not willingly enter slaughterhouses.
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)