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JEREMY MAGGS: Let’s return now to labour matters and reports today say the South African Municipal Workers Union [Samwu] is not on strike in Tshwane or organising any further protests over the disputed implementation of a wage agreement deal. But there is some confusion over this.
So let’s talk now to Nkhetheni Muthavhi from Samwu about whether the organisation is on strike or not. The city has termed the union activities as an illegal strike. The union though, is insisting it’s a legal process. Mr Muthavhi, can you clarify the union stance on this matter?
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: What has been our position is that Samwu has not called any strike and we also say we associate with what the executive mayor [Cilliers Brink] has said. He said it’s a wildcat strike. So when you look at the definition of a wildcat strike, it’s a strike that is not sanctioned by any organisation. We associate with that assertion by the executive mayor.
JEREMY MAGGS: So it’s an illegal strike then.
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: It’s unprotected. There can’t be a protected strike where there’s a collective agreement that [reach out on the dispute resolution mechanism] because we have signed a collective agreement in September 2021 that deals with the processes, if there should be non-compliance with that particular collective agreement. It’s explicit, Section 15 and Section 18 of the collective agreement, what is to be followed.
JEREMY MAGGS: How many of your members are involved?
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: We have no idea because we didn’t sanction it. Therefore, we cannot even talk to the numbers. If you have seen our letters, we have gone out and said, all our members who may be participating in this strike, they must know it’s not sanctioned by us. Therefore, we’re not going to take responsibility for their action. We have implored them to go back to work and that has been our stance.
JEREMY MAGGS: But they’re not listening to you.
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: I don’t think currently the employees are listening to anyone. The tempers are up. The employer took the matter to exemption, they have lost. Immediately an hour after we got the outcome that favours the workers, the City of Tshwane, through the executive mayor, they were already on a public platform to say they’re not going to pay.
That to us, it’s like they’re provoking workers. They never applied their mind. They don’t even say, how do we meet the workers halfway? So you may not be in control of what is happening currently.
JEREMY MAGGS: So are you suggesting to me that you’ve lost control of your members in this respect?
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: It cannot be our members only. We are saying workers now are on a frolic of their own, and to be saying those are Samwu members only, it’ll be mischievous because there’s no one who’s saying it’s only Samwu members. The workers in general, including the employer, must take responsibility. Are we also seeing the employer has lost control and that is the case.
JEREMY MAGGS: But the majority of those who are out are Samwu members, surely?
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: That cannot be verified. We had documents that has indicated you’ve got … members, you’ve got non-members who were taken to court by the employer, and the numbers are not saying what you’re saying.
JEREMY MAGGS: Are any services being delivered in Tshwane at the moment?
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: Definitely, there are services that are being delivered, although it is not at optimal or where the city will want it to be. But it has been the case I think for the longest time due to various factors.
JEREMY MAGGS: How are you going to resolve this issue so that both parties are satisfied?
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: I think that is the best question. What we need is for parties to sit down and look at the possible solution going forward, rather than the push-and-pull situation that we are seeing now.
As Samwu, we have reached out, we’ve proposed some other mechanism to say how do we deal with this particular situation so that the service delivery can be realised, so that we cannot have intimidation and all that. The community are receiving services.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a willingness from the employer’s side to sit down with us and find an amicable solution and so that everybody’s satisfied.
JEREMY MAGGS: So this could go on indefinitely.
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: Look, one cannot really guarantee. From where I’m standing, I’m a proponent of those that say there’s a legal process, let’s put the legal process. But like I said earlier, when workers are on a frolic of their own, there’s nothing much you can do beyond that.
So the only thing that we need to do, both parties need to sit at a round table and talk some sense to each other and say, when can the city pay? How do we pay? Come up with the mechanism. Can we then say those who are lowest paid, who are struggling, the downtrodden, can we pay them first and see [if] those others we can pay them sometime next year. Those are some of the proposals that we’ve put forward before.
JEREMY MAGGS: Is it not your responsibility as a union to try and rein those members in that you say are on a frolic of their own?
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: Definitely. As Samwu, we’ve got a disciplinary code that those who we find that they’ve violated our policies as an organisation, we’re going to deal with them at the right time.
JEREMY MAGGS: I’m interested to know, and perhaps you can just remind our listeners what the core issue of contention is again. Is it all over a number of workers who were dismissed, that you suggest that process was not legal?
NKHETHENI MUTHAVHI: No, there’s one issue here. The issue in contention, the fact that there’s the city through Salga [South African Local Government Association], for example, and the unions, Samwu and the other union that we organised in the local government, we entered into a collective agreement in 2021.
That collective agreement was a multi-year that I said we must be paid 3.5% in the first year, 2021, 2022, 2023, 4.8% which the employer has paid, and 2023, 2024, the employer has applied for exemption on the 9th of August. In that exemption, they’ve lost.
So that is what we’re contending to say the employer must pay and the employer is saying they don’t have money. But the papers that they forwarded as an exemption begging for their reasoning does not correspond with what they’re saying in public.
For example, I’ll give you a figure, just a round figure. The city employee cost budgeted for 2023, 2024, it is R12.8 billion. That is in their paper, I think it is page 202 because they’ve given us 2 000 pages. So it’s there. The staff complement, the cost of staff last year with the 4.8% increase, it amounted to R10.8 million with the surplus or a variance of R1.2 billion.
They’re contending that they need R600 million more, so for them to cover the cost of the increase of 5.4%. But we’re saying R10.8 million plus R600 000 is far less than what you have budgeted for. Therefore, you already have money to pay for these employees.
But they are also contending that they are struggling with cash flow. But if you know and you understand that the budget does not deal with the actuals, what you budget for is what you are saying, this is the plan that we have, and this is how we’re going to realise this particular plan. So that has been our case.
JEREMY MAGGS: From the South African Municipal Workers Union, Nkhetheni Muthavhi, thank you very much indeed.