NEARLY 5,000 South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu)-affiliated employees in Cape Town went on an indefinite strike on Monday, demanding improved wages for standby staff.

Samwu has also asked the city to provide transport for employees and opposed the shift system being changed without consultation.

Waste removal and water and sanitation services were likely to be the worst affected, the city said.

The striking workers include nurses employed at the city’s clinics, as well as call-centre workers.

This comes as Samwu and the Independent Municipal Allied Workers Union, representing about 230,000 municipal workers, are negotiating for double-digit wage increases with 278 municipalities.

The South African Local Government Association said at the conclusion of the second round of talks last week that it had raised its offer from 4.4% to 5.4%. Unions continue to demand 11%. The third round is expected to start soon.

On Monday Cape Town appealed to essential-services employees such as firefighters, metro police and healthcare workers not to strike. But Samwu charged that Cape Town’s "aggressive" budget cuts were compromising service delivery and making it harder for workers to do their jobs.

The union served the city with a strike notice last month. It had threatened to down tools in October but suspended the action when the city committed to resolving their grievances.

Samwu regional secretary Mike Khumalo said on Monday: "The budget cuts are actually doing more harm than good in the city … benefits of workers, such as transport, are being taken away." Samwu was also concerned about the city’s "reluctance" to act on racism.

Union members are to picket at council offices on Tuesday and march to the Civic Centre on Wednesday to hand over a memorandum.

Cape Town mayoral committee member for corporate services Xanthea Limberg said the city saw the strike as unnecessary, and that some of the union’s grievances had been addressed. "The city remains committed to further constructive debate to reach resolution on the outstanding issues."

Meanwhile, the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry said on Monday the city’s draft budget showed a 10% rise in salary costs, which was unaffordable and required urgent attention.

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