Double digits, nothing less, says Samwu

Striking municipal workers will settle for nothing less than a double digit wage increase, the South Africa Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) said on Thursday.

“The proposed figure is never what you get in the end, but we will settle for nothing under double digits,” spokesperson Tahir Sema said.

Samwu members took to the streets on Monday in an attempt to push for an 18% salary hike.

The South African Local Government Association has offered a 6.8% increase.

Sema said that 18% was not a “ridiculous” figure on which to begin negotiations.

“This figure will eventually be negotiated downwards. Just come to the table and begin negotiations,” he said.

Disgruntled workers were to picket at work places around the country on Thursday. Provincial marches would take place on Friday.

“We are busy with mobilisation efforts,” Sema said.

Workers would march for their wage demands and also in protest against the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill.

The legislation has been dubbed the cadres Bill because it bars party office bearers from being employed in senior positions in municipalities, and the union is still deciding on whether it would challenge the Bill at the Constitutional Court.

Strike boycott
A boycott of the strike by some union members has been reported.

Some workers reportedly told the South African Broadcast Corporation they did not take part because of corruption within the “dysfunctional” provincial leadership.

Rubbish has been collected from residents in Johannesburg and 90% of municipal workers have been reported present at work. Buses have been running in Tshwane, and similar rates of attendance have been reported there.

But the Samwu’s Gauteng branch denied that their members were boycotting the municipal workers’ strike.

Samwu’s Gauteng provincial chairperson, Koena Ramotlou, argued with members of the media who pointed out that in Johannesburg buses were running and staff had been seen at work.

He went so far as to say that those members who had attended work “were not working”, and that even if the pace of the strike in Johannesburg was slow, workers had downed tools in other parts of Gauteng.

Ramotlou also denied reports that workers had refused to join in the industrial action because of corruption in the Gauteng branches of the union. The media was blamed “for peddling reports that the union was divided”.

Ramotlou said Samwu would hold a mass march on Friday to bring Johannesburg and provinces to a standstill.

Strikers out in force on Friday
The Friday march will confirm all our members are on strike, he told reporters. “We have a full complement of members on strike”.

Samwu says the municipalities could afford the 18% wage increase if they stopped outsourcing services.

The union says municipalities use an outside company to buy clothing, stationery and computers and have called for the middle man to be cut out. Services are being duplicated: service providers are asked to do the same thing as workers.

By way of example, the union says external service providers are paid to change light bulbs, when existing staff could do that just as well.

The strikes have been marred by acts of violence and intimidation from Samwu workers.

On Tuesday, workers in Cape Town looted stalls belonging to informal traders, smashed car windows and set rubbish on fire in the streets.

Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille slammed the strikers’ behaviour and promised to take action against the union. Thirteen protesters have already been arrested and are expected to be charged with public violence.

“This administration respects the right of workers to strike as a fundamental labour right in our democracy. We do not respect the exploitation of those rights to cause damage and threaten others” said De Lille.

The leader of the opposition in the city council, councillor Tony Ehrenreich on Wednesday said that before the city took action against the looters it had to determine who was responsible for the violence.

“It could be union members, agents or criminals — or it could even be that the union tells people to do that. Nobody knows.”

Ehrenreich said that after the city had determined who was responsible, those to blame should face the “full weight of the law”.

Nobody listens unless there’s violence
However, Sema said that nobody listens until workers trash the streets.

Talks between Salga and Samwu had languished in a deadlock, he said.

“When the street sweeper wants to be heard, no one listens. When the street sweeper messes the streets, they are heard!”

“We hope to reach a point [where] violence and trashing doesn’t serve the unions.”

In Tshwane, on Tuesday, about 100 marchers protested and trashed streets in the city centre despite being told by the metro police to stay away from the centre of town.

In Durban, marchers trashed rubbish bins on their way to hand over a memorandum at the city hall on Wednesday. Shops on the route they were walking stayed closed. — Sapa

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