Johannesburg - As the strike by casual and part-time employees at the SA Post Office (Sapo) entered its third week, customers told of their frustration at not receiving their letters and parcels.
At the same time, some of the 473 striking employees have complained of many years of exploitation, toiling for low wages without any benefits.
“I don’t know whether I am a casual or part-time worker. I do a bit of everything, from sorting mail to delivery and cleaning,” said one worker, a father of two who has worked at the Witspos hub for 10 years.
Non-permanent employees in Gauteng embarked on an illegal strike on August 18, demanding improved working conditions.
The strike, mainly at the mail sorting centres, has been characterised by intimidation and violence, including blocking of sites, assault on other employees and damage to property.
A Sapo delivery van was set alight in Rosebank on Tuesday.
The strike has had ripple effects in Ekurhuleni and Tshwane, shutting several post offices across Gauteng and resulting in delays on the posting of municipal accounts and couriered parcels.
“We are not getting notification for water and electricity (monthly) bills and deliveries of vehicles and licence renewals,” said a man at the Germiston Mail Centre, who identified himself only as George.
As he spoke, more and more customers arrived to collect their mail.
“When we go to our local post office, they direct us here. Every year, it’s strike, strike, strike. This is highly inconvenient,” said Johan Baynes, also from Reiger Park.
Several notices were placed at the main entrance, including those from the Labour Court notifying employees that their strike was illegal.
Sapo said on Friday it was in the process of issuing dismissal letters to striking employees.
“This action is a culmination of a fair and due labour relations-based process to resolve the matter amicably. All efforts to resolve the industrial action – which included negotiations, ultimatums and a Labour Court interdict – came to naught,” said Sapo chief executive Christopher Hlekane.
Sapo remains among the organisations hardest hit by industrial action.
A 2013/14 draft independent audit report into Sapo that The Star has seen indicates the entity was hit by “three waves” of labour strikes last year alone.
The strikes, which had paralysed its mail business in the Wits region, resulted in the loss of 59 days of business operations and more than R236 million in estimated revenue.
The intermittent strikes mean Sapo’s mission as an organisation that “strives to increase shareholder value and maximise socio-economic benefits” could be a pipe dream.
It also makes a mockery of its “strategic turnaround plan” and business code of “commitment to sound corporate governance principles”.
But that piece of news seemed to have done little, if any, to appease the striking workers.
A Witspos worker alleged there were wage disparities between black and white colleagues.
“Some of us do the same jobs as our white colleagues, but they are being paid better and get taken when there are permanent positions.”
Communications Workers Union deputy president Clyde Mervin called for the permanent employment of all casual and part-time employees.
“We have seen the Post Office, since the arrival of Chris Hlekane, going down the drain. The entity has, under his leadership, been blessed with strikes,” Mervin said.
He added, though, that Hlekane had “inherited the baggage of the previous leadership”.
Hlekane said Sapo had “already commenced the process of converting the casual workers into permanent positions”.