SAMWU 2022 year-end message

As the year 2022 draws to an end, the National Office Bearers (NOBs) of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) take this opportunity to thank leaders of the union at provincial, regional and local levels along with officials of the union who have tirelessly served the country’s municipal workers. We take this opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the union over the last twelve months, note areas where we could have done better and provide an outlook for the year 2023, “the year of the member.”

In 2022, after a 7-year absence of meaningful contribution in COSATU, the union was finally able to participate at the COSATU National Congress as an affiliate in good standing and able to influence debates, discussions, and decisions of the Congress. 2022 was a special year for SAMWU, in October, the union celebrated its 35th anniversary after being formed by an amalgamation of several unions in the local government sector, which envisioned a workers-controlled, militant, non-racial and non-sexist union. We owe it to our forebearers to keep alive the fighting spirit, vibrancy, and militancy of the union, to further advance the interests of workers and communities. 

The relevance of the union and its fighting spirit was shown when, in implementing the 11th National Congress resolution on union bashing, we successfully ensured the return of over 200 workers at Newcastle and Ugu municipalities in the KZN province. We should however as a union not let our guard down, but rather continue being alert and aware of the victimisation of workers by employers throughout the country. We have seen this victimisation and purging of workers in many municipalities including the Steve Tshwete Local Municipality in Mpumalanga province which attempted to join other municipalities that have made dismissing workers and en masse fashionable. As we enter the new year, we should do so with renewed enthusiasm and commitment while jealously guarding the gains already made for workers. 

We should as workers and community members be concerned that workers at Emfuleni Local Municipality faced the prospect of having a black Christmas following the failure of the employer to pay workers their December salaries on time after the institution’s bank account was attached by Eskom due to non-payment. We are pleased that the Gauteng provincial leadership along with the regional leadership stepped up and ensured that these workers received their salaries just in time for Christmas.

We have previously been faced with a situation like this at the Renosterberg Local Municipality in the Northern Cape Province, whose bank account was also attached by Eskom. We trust that the precedent that was set by the Northern Cape High Courts which set aside the attachment of the municipality’s bank account will be used to prevent further disruptions of service delivery and the lives of municipal workers. 

Similarly, we should be concerned by the number of municipalities which fail to pay statutory deductions leading to many workers’ policies lapsing as a result of non-payment. We however find solace in the fact that law enforcement agencies are now attending to this issue as we have seen with the arrest of the former Kai !Garib Municipal Manager whose actions resulted in workers collectively losing over R10 million which was deducted from their salaries but never paid to the pension fund. It is our view that failure to pay over statutory deductions is a criminal offence and should be persecuted as such.

In the new year, the union will have to intensify its fight against pickpocketing workers of their hard-earned money. We need to ensure that all municipalities, in particular Municipal Managers as accounting officers, are held personally liable for short-changing workers. We further need to intensify our fight against municipalities that have made it fashionable to pay workers’ salaries late. The situation in the Free State and Eastern Cape provinces is so dire that municipalities such as Kopanong and Amahlathi at some point attempted to pay workers through vouchers. 

As a union, we have noted and witnessed the financial strain faced by municipalities, it is our considered view that many of the challenges which are financial in nature should be addressed through the review of the municipal funding model. We, therefore, need to have serious and earnest discussions with the National Treasury and Provincial Governments with the aim of financially stabilising municipalities so they can focus on delivering quality services to millions of South Africans who rely on them on a daily basis. 

Despite the fact that municipalities are financially stressed, there are those rogue criminal elements who still find joy and pleasure in corruptly depleting the much-needed municipal resources. Our joy comes from the fact that law enforcement agencies are now acting on many of the municipal corruption which have largely been neglected, resulting in individuals acting with impunity. In particular, we welcome the Hawks’ arrest of the Maluti-a-Phofung’s municipal manager for tender fraud and corruption in the municipality. 

It goes without saying that the tendering system has resulted in municipalities being vulnerable to manipulation and flouting of the Municipal Finance Management Act. For clean governance in municipalities, the tendering system should be done away with as it does not add value to the quality of service delivery but rather has been instrumental in creating an elite of tenderpreneurs who exploit workers and inflate costs so they are able to pay bribes to corrupt officials.  

As municipal workers, we are witnesses to the crime and corruption happening in municipalities. Workers who are committed to clean governance have been victimised while others have been silenced through the barrel of a gun. To be specific, the illegal investments of municipal monies with the now-defunct VBS mutual bank has robbed the union and workers of capable leaders in Limpopo Province, their only sin being taking the moral ground against the cancerous fraud and corruption in municipalities. 

It is for this reason that as SAMWU, we welcome the recent arrests by the Hawks of individuals who were instrumental in directing or influencing these illegal investments at the Elias Motsoaledi Local Municipality and Sekhukhune District Municipality. Importantly, we will continue with our demonstrations during court appearances of the two individuals who stand accused of murdering Comrades TT and Mani. We will not rest until the accused reveal the identity of those who sent them to brutally murder these dedicated unionists and community leaders. 

As we approach 2023, we need to ensure that we safeguard the sustainability of the country’s municipalities. We have seen how political factions can single-handedly lead to the collapse of a municipality. At Ditsobotla Local Municipality in the North West province, greedy Councillors went as far as developing parallel structures to run the municipality, leading to the total collapse in governance and the ultimate dissolution of the municipality. As SAMWU, we welcome the dissolution of the Council in line with Section 139 (1) (c) of the Constitution. We are however concerned that despite the IEC having have successfully conducted by-elections, a new Council is yet to be sworn in. We therefore urge all political parties represented in the Council to put aside their political differences and remember that they are there to serve residents and workers who had suffered as a result of the failures of the previous Council. 

Although our space as workers is not political, we however would not keep quiet and fold our arms when political factions are doing all in their power to dissolve municipalities. We should in the same breath congratulate workers at the Amathole District Municipality for having stood their ground when the political leadership of the institution sought to impose an unqualified and previously failed individual as a Municipal Manager. This is the courage and bravery that as workers we will be going with into the new year. Before we are municipal workers, we are community members and as such, we have a vested interest in seeing municipalities that are ethically run. 

As a union, we are encouraged by the number of workers who previously left us and have shown their interest to come back, while others are already members of the union in good standing. We are particularly encouraged by workers from WSSA who have in their numbers reached out to the union with a call that they want to come back home. Working with the provincial leadership of both North West and Western Cape, we will be ensuring that these workers do find a home in SAMWU. This unprovoked move by workers is a testament that SAMWU remains the only home and hope for the country’s workers in the local government and water sectors. 

In the new year, we will be focusing more of our energies towards the water sector which we admit had been neglected for a while. We want to ensure that all workers in both sectors feel welcome and equal within the union.  Already we have been doing much work in the sector wherein we were able to achieve an above-inflation increase for workers during the salary and wage negotiations in the sector. 

We have in the past year directed a lot of energy in this sector and will be improving on that, particularly given the recent developments there. The Department of Water and Sanitation, through its Minster, Senzo Mchunu has made known its intentions to reconfigure the country’s water boards. Already, Sedibeng Water has been disestablished, while plans are already in action for the reconfiguration of Mhlathuze and Umgeni water boards. As a union, we found great displeasure in the manner in which the disestablishment of Sedibeng Water was done, to the exclusion of labour. 

It was only after the union approached the courts that the DWS, Bloem Water and Magalies Water took the union’s genuine concerns into consideration. We are pleased that through our intervention in the court mandated mediation process, we have been able to secure benefits and conditions of service for all workers who were transferred to both Bloem Water and Magalies Water through the recently signed transfer agreements. 

As we draw near to 2023, one of our priorities will be engaging with DWS, Mhlathuze Water and Umgeni Water to ensure that the reconfiguration of these two water boards does not in any way prejudice our members. We will do everything humanly possible to ensure that workers’ conditions are not tempered with, but rather improved and that this reconfiguration and the many that are to follow do not result in job losses in the future. Importantly, we will be using the experiences of the Sedibeng Water disestablishment to ensure a smooth and seamless transfer of employees during the reconfiguration process. 

As NOBs, our priority is ensuring that Congress resolutions are implemented, we have indeed heard the cries from members about the service received. In the new year, we will ensure that members and their service come first. It is for this reason that we have themed 2023, the year of the member, we are going back to basics and will ensure that members come first in all that we do. Education and capacitation of shopstewards and members will be a top priority for the union in 2023. We will be reaffirming our status and position as the majority union in both sectors through recruitment campaigns that are geared towards having quality and capable members and leaders who are able to defend workers in the workplace. 

In the year of the member, we will be consolidating the gains that we have made in the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC). The 3-year salary and wage collective agreement will be in its last leg of implantation in July 2023 wherein municipal workers will be receiving a salary and wage increase of CPI plus 1%. Through our intervention, the SALGBC is currently undertaking a study on the employability of EPWP workers permanently and directly by municipalities. In reaffirming the union’s 2015 National Congress resolution, all EPWP workers based in municipalities should be permanent municipal employees with full benefits. 

As salary and wage negotiations for both sectors will be commencing next year, we want our members to be active participants and mandate the union for increases which are in line with the forever increasing cost of living. Our members should be prepared for the battle ahead, especially given the austerity measures which have been adopted by government. 

As NOB, we take this opportunity to invite all workers in the local government and water sector, who are not members of SAMWU to join us on the exciting journey that awaits us in the new year. 

We can’t wait to share the promising journey ahead with you!

We wish you all a happy and prosperous new year!

Issued by SAMWU National Office Bearers