COSATU demands urgent intervention by government in defaulting municipalities refusing to pay workers their salaries

12 December 2023

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) demands urgent intervention by national and provincial government in defaulting municipalities failing to pay their workers their salaries.

The Federation is furious to learn some municipalities are continuing to fail to pay workers their salaries on time. We call on these municipalities to pay workers what is due to them, or we will work with SAMWU to take them to court and have their assets attached.  Over the past year alone, the number of delinquent municipalities defaulting on paying their employees has risen from 20 in 4 provinces to 27 in 6 provinces. 

Workers in Mafube Municipality in the Free State have now been informed they will not receive their salaries for the next three months.  Employees in Ditsobotla Municipality in the North West are reported not to have been paid since October. 

These and other delinquent municipalities are failing workers who are already battling to cope with a cost-of-living crisis.  Some municipalities have been found to be deducting taxes, pension and medical funds from workers’ salaries and then failing to transfer those funds as legally required.  This has put retiring workers in poverty and seen employees seeking medical treatment being turned away as their medical aids have lapsed.

The Federation is disturbed by the apathetic and indifferent attitude of national and provincial governments, in particular COGTA and SALGA, if they still exist, on this matter.  For the past five years COSATU has been calling on government to put in place a turnaround strategy to revive the 80% of municipalities experiencing financial distress.  It is scandalous that National Treasury, which has the ethical responsibility to see to it that the public money is used for its designated purposes and spent within the guidelines of existing legislation across the state, has done little if anything.

The Auditor-General has been warning that the accountability for financial and performance management continues to worsen in most municipalities.  Numerous reports show many municipalities have been failing to account accurately for the financial transactions they have carried out with the money entrusted to them.

The Federation fully supports the call by our tireless Affiliate, the South African Municipal Workers’ Unions (SAMWU) for national and provincial governments to intervene in these municipalities, as per their Constitutional obligations.  Although national government does not control local government, it nevertheless has important powers. National government bears the primary responsibility for national policy and legislation within which local government operates. Fiscal policy determines the level of financial flows to local government. Under fiscal austerity, transfers to local government have declined.

We agree with SAMWU that a new funding model is needed to halt the rapid deterioration of local government.  This needs to include fast tracking the roll out of the District Development Model.  It is clear we cannot sustain many of the 259 municipalities, many of whom lack a sufficient rate base to sustain them.  The collapse in basic services is causing many companies to close and retrench workers in rural towns, creating economic wastelands. 

In the past few years, municipal debt to Eskom has jumped from R40 billion to more than R60 billion with most of this owed by the 41 most distressed municipalities.  Equally alarming are the billions of Rands earmarked for infrastructure being returned by these mismanaged municipalities to Treasury because their leadership has no clue on how to spend money once the taps for looting have been closed.

This deterioration of local government confirms that there is little control over the corrupt abuse and manipulation of tenders and procurement of goods and services. We have consistently argued against the view that the tendering system and public-private partnerships are a panacea.  It is time this issue of the tendering system is revisited and put on the table for discussion.  Parliament needs to move with speed to conclude passage of the Public Procurement Bill to enable it to be assented by President Cyril Ramaphosa before the 2024 elections.

Issued by COSATU

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator
Cell: 082 785 0687