Union plans to close taps countrywide

The National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) will embark on an indefinite nationwide strike at the Department of Water and Sanitation on Thursday, in protest against the outsourcing of workers, claiming this is at the centre of alleged corruption and mismanagement under former minister Nomvula Mokonyane.

The union, which is the largest in the public sector and has 3 000 members at the department, is confident that 2 000 others who aren’t members will join their strike.

“Service delivery won’t be normal…there’ll be no-one pressing a switch, as from tomorrow (Thursday),” Newhawu’s general secretary Zola Saphetha said at a media briefing at the union’s head office in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

He said that their intention is “not to punish society” and called for a speedy resolution by newly appointed Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti.

Deputy general secretary December Mavuso added that most of their members aren’t classified as providing essential services, which gives them the right to strike.

READ MORE: Water and sanitation department is billions of rands in debt

“Most municipalities rely on [water] supply from the dams run by the department. Certainly in most of these areas there will be disruptions.”

Saphetha acknowledged the effect of a strike with several provinces facing drought conditions already, but he believes their demands will make the water supply more secure in the long term.

“Communities are already affected by [the] scarcity of water. That thing has created anxiety, but you can imagine now if the supplier of that water withdraws their labour.”

The strike action – the first involving national water services since 1994 – will affect 53 facilities nationwide, including dams, constructions sites and admin offices.

Nehawu, an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) secured the strike certificate in December after the parties failed to resolve the dispute at the department’s bargaining chamber.

Claims of corruption

Nehawu blamed Mokonyane for the department overspending its R14-billion budget by R2.9-billion and having to apply to the Reserve Bank for an overdraft.

Saphetha warned against giving the department more money as this will only “go into the pockets of the greedy”.

The union maintains that the construction directorate within the water department is fully functional and well equipped, but it was bypassed in order to award tenders to politically connected people.

“If you want to loot resources, they create agencies, make their buddies [in charge],” Saphetha said.

Nehawu is seeking a legal opinion about going to the police or the Hawks with their evidence of wrongdoing.

The union was unable to provide documents in their possession to the media, saying they first wanted to show them to the authorities.

Senior management suspended

Nehawu also cited the suspension of 5 senior management officials, including deputy directors general, a chief director and the CFO – as one of the reasons for the strike action.

Saphetha described Mokonyane making “haphazard appointments” and said that the employees face disciplinary action for refusing to implement unlawful instructions.

Other demands made by Nehawu include the payment of merit bonuses to workers, retrospectively from 2017, the improvement of working conditions at offices and dams, where they say staff members sometimes go without protective clothing, as well as an immediate end to outsourced projects.

South Africa’s water sector: a case study in state capture

Saphetha said that Nkwinti was informed of the strike going ahead on Thursday and the union had requested a meeting, but their letter wasn’t acknowledged and no response was provided.

Mokonyane was appointed Minister of Communications in the Cabinet reshuffle in February. Her spokesperson, Mlimandlela Ndamase, told Fin24 that it’s against government protocol to comment on other departments’ portfolios.

He pointed out, however, that the minister doesn’t sign off on any financial documents as that is the responsibility of the accounting officer and the Department of Water and Sanitation has all the relevant documentation.

The department’s spokesperson did not respond to several calls for comment. – Fin24

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Tehillah Niselow
Tehillah Nieselow
Tehillah Nieselow is a Journalist at Power FM. She Covers labour issues, strikes, protests and general stories

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