South African Municipal Workers Union members protest. Picture: THE HERALD/MIKE HOLMES
South African Municipal Workers Union members protest. Picture: THE HERALD/MIKE HOLMES

The City of Tshwane, which was left without a mayor, mayoral committee and municipal manager due to sustained political infighting, is now facing another political storm after the country’s biggest municipal workers’ union downed tools and embarked on a wildcat strike over salary increases.

The non-implementation of the salary increases is linked to the government’s decision to cut the public sector wage bill by more than R160bn over the next three years, a decision described by unions as a “declaration of war”.

The subsequent resolution by the government to not implement a standing wage agreement for public servants in April is now subject to both court and arbitration proceedings.

On Tuesday, members of the SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) stormed and trashed the City of Tshwane's head offices, Tshwane House, leading to the metro suspending all bus services on Wednesday.

Samwu had threatened “war” against the metro’s administration team led by Mpho Nawa. When the administration team was appointed in March, Gauteng premier David Makhura described the metro, which accounts for about 9% of SA’s GDP, as “leaderless and rudderless”, saying the collapse of services there would have a huge bearing on the provincial economy — the biggest in SA.

Samwu Tshwane deputy regional secretary Valentine Matlala, however, said Samwu “is not on strike”, and that those who participated in the illegal action had done so out of frustration with the administrator's decision to not implement the increases.

In June, Cosatu-affiliated Samwu lashed out at the National Treasury for what it said were attempts to collapse collective bargaining in the local government sector, after it allegedly urged municipalities to apply for exemptions from wage deals.

Municipal workers were due to be paid a wage increase of 6.25% on July 1, as part of the last leg of a three-year wage agreement signed at the SA Local Government Bargaining Council in 2018.

The union had said in June it expected all of the 257 municipalities to implement salary increases on July 1, failing which their members would strike to force them to comply with the binding collective agreement.

Samwu Tshwane regional secretary Mpho Tladinyane said the metro’s administrators had on  July 16  committed to implement the 6.25% salary increase for staff. “An instruction was issued to officials to load [the] money [onto the system] for payment. It is unfortunate that on Monday, 20 July 2020 [the] administrators took a unilateral decision to reverse such payments,” said Tladinyane.

On Tuesday, Samwu called on the Tshwane administrators to commit to paying the salary increases by Friday.

“Failure to honour all collective agreements in the city would be a declaration of war, war that municipal workers are ready to fight in defending collective bargaining and their gains,” said Tladinyane.

“The city should not test us, the ground is fertile and if it is war that the administrators want, municipal workers will respond appropriately.”

Speaking to Business Day on Wednesday, Chrys Haitas, Capital City Business Chamber executive director for strategic business development, criticised the workers for being “ungrateful”, saying the Covid-19 pandemic had affected everyone.

“The fact that they are still being paid, they should be grateful. There are people who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. What’s 6.25% when you’ve got a salary to feed your family, unlike others?” said Haitas.

She said the city was struggling to get taxes from businesses as some were forced to closed down during the lockdown. “The economy is not what we anticipated it to be, businesses are not functioning as per usual.”

Nawa could not be immediately reached for comment.

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