Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: SOWETAN
Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: SOWETAN

The ink was barely dry on the ground-breaking agreement signed by the City of Johannesburg and labour, before infighting broke out within the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) over the pact.

The DA mayor Herman Mashaba, together with representatives from Samwu and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu), signed what they described as a historic and first-of-its-kind memorandum of understanding, aimed at promoting harmonious labour relations between the stakeholders and advancing service delivery.

The infighting by the Samwu factions is threatening to turn the historic deal to tatters and derail its implementation, a few hours after it was signed amid much fanfare by labour stakeholders on Monday.

The pact grants unions access to the city’s intricate budget-planning processes. The city says unions are crucial stakeholders that should be consulted on the matter. Access to the city coffers could strengthen the unions’ hands in wage negotiations as they would know how much the metro could afford in pay hikes. Involving the workers at the budgeting process could also help reduce industrial action, which has sometimes turned violent.

The city has the biggest budget of all the metros in SA with R64.5bn allocated for the 2019/2020 financial year.

Vuyani Singonzo, who signed the agreement on Samwu’s behalf as its purported regional chair, has come under fire from the union federation Cosatu affiliate, which claims he did not have authority to do so. 

On Tuesday, Samwu Gauteng provincial secretary, Bafana Zungu, told Business Day that Singonzo, Meisie Sekaledi and Paul Thlabang were fired as shop stewards for alleged misconduct in 2016. This was a few months after the trio were elected as Samwu regional chair, secretary and deputy secretary, respectively, during the union’s congress in 2015.

They challenged their axing all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in 2018 that the decision to fire them was legal, said Zungu. “The Constitutional Court ruled in 2018 that the decision to fire them was correct. They are in contempt of court by going around in public and signing agreements on behalf of Samwu.”

Zungu said the union is now trying to reach out to the faction with a view to “set aside that thing”. “They must withdraw from the agreement because they didn’t get a mandate from the members to sign it. We were shocked when these guys signed the agreement. We want to unite with them because we don’t have an agenda to suspend or expel them.

Mashaba’s spokesperson Luyanda Mfeka said the city only works with recognised unions. He said it is up to the Zungu faction to prove that the Singonzo faction had no authority to enter into the agreement, “and then we will discuss [it]”.

The signed agreement states: “The city undertakes not to enter into recognition agreements, or any agreement, on organisational rights with any trade union [that] has not been formally recognised by the bargaining council.”

It also states that the agreement shall remain “binding between the parties indefinitely until such time as it may be replaced by an agreement signed between the parties”.

Singonzo could not immediately be reached for comment.