The SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) strike at Rand Water will not lead to water supply disruptions as the majority of employees are essential service workers, Rand Water CEO Sipho Mosai said on Tuesday.  

Mosai clarified that of the staff complement of about 3,000, only about 1,000 were non-essential service workers. The supply and distribution of water is classified as an essential service, and essential service workers are prohibited from striking.

“The reason they are essential service workers is because we supply water to municipalities that supply hospitals. We can’t afford to have water disruptions during the time of Covid. Water is an essential good,” he said.

“I don’t think the Samwu leadership followed right process in terms of going on a protected strike. Our view is that the strike is not protected and their view is that they can go on strike.”

He said what was important, however, was that “most of our employees that are responsible for providing water to consumers and municipalities won’t be going on strike. Water supply won’t be affected unless there is an act of sabotage.”

He stressed that it would be “a serious offence that may even lead to dismissals” if their essential service employees participated in the strike. 

On Monday, Samwu threatened the strike would cut the water supply to 15-million residents of Gauteng.

University of the Free State water expert Anthony Turton supported Mosai, saying Rand Water employees should be prevented from going on strike as they are essential service workers.

“Rand Water is crucial to the economy. About 40% of the population and 60% of GDP could be affected by the strike,” he said. “Rand Water is of strategic importance to the country from an economic development point of view.”

Rand Water supplies Gauteng’s three metropolitan municipalities, local municipalities, mines and other industries, as well as parts of Mpumalanga, the North West and Free State with an average of 3.653-million litres of potable water daily.

“This is a dangerous trend for our country. Law enforcement officials have to ensure that essential service workers report for duty during the Samwu strike,” Turton said.

Rand Water spokesperson Justice Mohale said the company had received notification from Samwu of its intention to strike from 8am on Wednesday.

The union had informed the company that the reason for its strike was because the company had failed to consult with it before deciding not to pay performance incentive bonuses. But Mohale said Rand Water disputed this claim. 

“Mindful of the eminence of the Covid-19 pandemic and conscious of our mandate to ensure an uninterrupted service, Rand Water would like to inform the public that we have adequate systems in place to ensure a sustained supply of bulk potable water to our customers,” he said.

He said Rand Water was committed to engaging with Samwu to reach a resolution and that all its customers and stakeholders would be kept informed of any developments.

Samwu is the country’s largest union in the local government sector, representing more than 260,000 municipal workers. Samwu Gauteng deputy secretary Mamorena Madisha said the union had 2,100 members at Rand Water.

Samwu elected to go on an indefinite strike over performance incentive bonuses at the water utility. Madisha said the indefinite strike, which will start on Wednesday, was protected.

While essential service workers would not be prevented from reporting for duty, the water supply was not guaranteed.

“As much as essential service employees will be working, the non-essential workers also have a critical role to play,” she said. “It’s a chain reaction: what an essential service employee does needs to trickle down to non-essential service employees.”

Madisha said it was not the union’s intention to go out of its way to ensure there were water disruptions, “but we can’t guarantee there won’t be water disruptions because non-essential employees also play a crucial role in the bigger scheme of things”. 

Update: April 20 2021

This story has been updated with new information.


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