Court rules against sanitation strike

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DAILY NEWS

Water sprays from a pipe outside the eThekwini Municipalitys water and sanitation depot in Halifax Road, Pinetown. A businessman from a neighbouring business said the pipe was broken by striking municipal workers. Photo: Sandile Makhoba

Durban - The eThekwini Municipality was granted an interim order on Thursday stopping workers from continuing an illegal strike at the city’s water and sanitation unit in Pinetown.

They were also prevented from disrupting a disciplinary hearing on Friday of four employees from the unit at their head office in Durban.

A group of employees have been on an illegal strike since Monday and have damaged municipal vehicles and property and blockaded the entrance to the Pinetown depot.

They have also prevented non-striking employees from working, bringing the depot to a standstill.

The municipality, represented by advocate Vishalin Naidoo, argued in court papers before Durban Labour Court Judge David Gush that the water and sanitation unit was an essential service, so it was illegal for workers to strike.

Speaking outside court, Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union and the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) legal representatives said the strike was not sanctioned by the unions. They are expected to file court papers before next month.

Aaron Mfunda, the deputy head of the city’s water and sanitation unit, said the strikers were from the unit’s customer services department in Scott Road, Pinetown.

In court papers, he said this was the fourth unlawful work stoppage in the past two months and the 35 striking workers had failed to follow grievance procedure about their complaints which they said led to the illegal strike.

They ignored an ultimatum to return to work, issued by the head of water and sanitation, Neil Macleod.

Workers complained last month that:

* Vacant posts were not being filled.

* Grading of posts was taking too long.

* Staff qualifications need to be investigated.

* African employees were not being treated fairly in the filling of vacant posts.

They also called for the senior manager at the Pinetown depot, Stalyn Joseph, to be removed.

Mfunda said four employees were suspended last month when the 35 workers marched to the city’s administrative buildings in Pinetown and broke two sets of doors leading to Joseph’s office.

Their disciplinary hearing is scheduled for on Friday at the unit’s head office in Prior Road, Durban.

Mfunda said he expected the workers to disrupt the disciplinary proceedings as this had happened previously.

The four have been suspended with full pay and benefits, pending finalisation of their disciplinary hearing.

He said workers gathered at the Halifax Road depot in Pinetown on Thursday, preventing vehicles from entering and leaving.

“The situation at the depot, is tense,” read Mfunda’s affidavit. “I have attempted to address the employees via the shop stewards, but that attempt was met with no success.”

A pipe near the gate of the depot was spraying water into the air on Thursday.

A businessman from a neighbouring property, who asked not to be named, said he witnessed municipal workers destroying the pipe during a protest on Wednesday.

“We, the ratepayers, will be held responsible for having to pay for the waste they have caused,” the businessman said.

The municipality could not confirm the damage on Thursday.

Mfunda referred to striking workers stoning municipal vehicles, slashing tyres and blocking entrances to the Pinetown depot and said the police were of little help. He said only basic administrative functions were being performed.

Among the strikers, he said, were meter readers and handymen who restricted water supplies to ratepayers who were not paying their water bills.

Mfunda said the technical services department, which liaised with the community and addressed daily water problems, was also based at the Pinetown depot.

“Without the proper functioning of this department, the community has no outlet to express their concerns and have their water problems addressed by us.”

The wastewater services department was also affected because it shares the depot.

“The unlawful strike has and will have devastating ramifications and has an immediate and obvious effect on the (city’s) ability to deliver services to residents,” read Mfunda’s affidavit.

Judge Gush ordered the police to help the municipality enforce compliance with the interim order at the Durban and Pinetown depots.

Samwu provincial spokesman Nhlanhla Nyandeni said on Thursday that the municipality’s failure to reinstate the four suspended employees had caused workers to down tools.

He said the four workers were accused of being “instigators” of an illegal protest following a meeting between workers and the municipality.

“We are meeting the city (on Friday) to try to end this.”

A worker, who did not want to be named, said they were irritated when told to acquire qualifications for work they had been doing for years.

“That’s what led to this. We have 10 year’s experience. Now they want us to get qualifications.”

noelene.barbeau@inl.co.za and tankiso.makhetha@inl.co.za

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