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

As the crisis within the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) deepens, some of its members have requested the City of Johannesburg to withhold their subscriptions from the union.

Samwu has been dogged by infighting for almost a decade as different leaders battle it out for control of the union’s coffers, which run into millions, with some facing arrest over fraud and corruption.

The biggest union in the municipal sector is also being investigated by the Hawks, who seized documents and computers from its head office in a raid in 2016.

Unhappy members said in a letter to the city council seen by Business Day their monies were being used to fund factional battles in the union.

The council has been negotiating labour matters with two factions of the union, one led by regional leader Bafana Zungu and the other by former deputy secretary Paul Tlhabang, pending a ruling on a Labour Appeal Court application.

"The matter is before the Labour Appeal Court (LAC) by virtue of having been granted leave to appeal by the court. Until the LAC decides on the matter, it is incumbent on us to treat both factions as equals," Christo Marais, acting group executive director of group corporate services for the city, said.

The city recognised Samwu as autonomous and would not intervene in its affairs, he said.

It has offered to mediate in the dispute between the factions since it has an "adverse effect on its collective-bargaining processes", Marais said.

The issue of withholding membership subscription funds would be tabled before the next mandatory committee meeting.

It is not the first time the city, as an employer, has found itself embroiled in Samwu affairs, as similar issues have hampered labour relations at Pikitup and Rand Water in the past.

Labour forums and other collective-bargaining institutions have also been affected by the infighting, jeopardising the protection of workers’ interests.

In the letter from a faction led by Tlhabang, who was removed from Samwu leadership in 2016, workers say they have had enough of the state of affairs.

They have issued a list of demands to the city including the "withholding of membership subscription funds with immediate effect, meaning the subscriptions must not be paid to the Samwu account".

"This was petitioned by workers across the [city] since June 2016 and the resolution was never implemented. Workers feel strongly that their funds are used to fight factional battles," reads one of the demands.

Zungu said the city had no right to consider individuals’ requests due to a service-level agreement between Samwu and the city.

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