'Bubbles' an African Penguin, plays with bubbles blown by a member of the National Zoo in Pretoria  during an enrichment activity to stimulate the animals. Picture: DANIEL BORN/THE TIMES
'Bubbles' an African Penguin, plays with bubbles blown by a member of the National Zoo in Pretoria during an enrichment activity to stimulate the animals. Picture: DANIEL BORN/THE TIMES

Attempts to avert industrial action at the Pretoria Zoo officially collapsed on Thursday‚ with the National Trade Union Congress slapping management of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) with a strike notice.

Craig Allenby, spokesperson for the Pretoria Zoo, said the notice indicated that members of the union‚ which represents about 120 workers at the zoo‚ intended demonstrating and picketing after the expiry of the 48-hour notice period.

He said the unresolved dispute related to an agreement signed in 2009 between the NZG and its various trade unions on the implementation of a seven-day work week.

"(The union) is now demanding that the agreement be cancelled and that employees be paid overtime for work performed during weekends‚" he said.

Zoo management stressed that the zoo‚ which attracts more than 150‚000 children annually‚ was a seven-day operation and that it was both impractical and financially unfeasible to meet the demands of the union.

Founded in 1899‚ the animal sanctuary is the largest and oldest zoo in the country and home to more than 5‚000 animal species — many of them endangered.

Allenby said the zoo had the largest inland marine aquarium.

"Its animal collection includes a number of interesting animals including the big five‚ Komodo dragons‚ Okapi‚ gorilla‚ various birds and reptiles. It even has a ragged-tooth shark in its aquarium‚" he said.

Management has reassured the public that it had a contingency plan in place to ensure both the welfare of the animals and the safety of the visitors should the union continue with its actions.

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