Durban - More than 11 000 eThekwini Municipality employees have rejected the city’s offer to pay them three years of back pay – instead of seven years as demanded- after a court ruling in their favour.
They have now given their union a mandate to strike and “bring the city to its knees”.
The employees, all members of the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), held general meetings on Wednesday when a decision was taken to embark on rolling mass action early next month unless the city accedes to their demands of seven years’ backpay.
“Our members are fed up and they are willing and ready to go out in numbers to fight for what belongs to them,” Samwu’s deputy secretary of the eThekwini region, Pretty Shange, said on Wednesday. “We have rejected the employer’s offer.”
The city workers want the municipality to abide by a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling handed down in September that reversed the conditions of service agreement – implemented by the city in 2007 – and ordered it to pay back affected employees who had been stripped of allowances and other benefits.
If the city does not bow to their demands, they plan to disrupt services ranging from refuse collection, street sweeping, sewerage maintenance and traffic control.
Union members said a possible date discussed for mass action was May 5 – two days before the general elections.
Stanley Khoza, president of the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu), said that while they, too, had not accepted the city’s offer they had no plans to embark on a strike, “as there is still room for negotiation”.
In 2007 the city introduced new uniform service agreements for employees as part of a plan to unify the entities under the newly created eThekwini Municipality.
The unions, Samwu and Imatu, objected to the service agreements and took the matter to the Labour Court and won. The city took the decision to the Supreme Court of Appeal and lost in September.
In October, city manager S’bu Sithole established a technical task team to quantify the financial implications for the municipality. A report by the task team estimated that the city would have to pay staff more than R185 million in backpay.
However, staff who benefited from the 2007 agreement would have to pay back R233m to the city if the court order was strictly implemented.
Last week the city, in a written proposal to the unions, said it would not go after money owed to it by employees who benefited from the 2007 agreement. However, it said it would only pay back affected employees for three years based on the Prescription Act.
In terms of the act claims for debt expires if no attempt to collect it has been made within three years.
However, Samwu has rejected the city’s three-year proposal on the basis that the city was the one to take the Labour Court decision on appeal and allowed the matter to drag on for seven years.
They want the city to immediately implement the court decision and back pay employees from 2007.
“What is coming through strongly from our members is that the employer is not respecting the court decision and the legal system. The court has ruled and told them to implement and they are not implementing,” Shange said.
“Our members are rejecting the three-year back pay deal because they feel the employer has known all this time that the matter was in court and they persisted by implementing this new agreement irrespective of the court process.
“They should have, at least, waited for the outcome of the court ruling before they implemented the service agreements. Seven years later they are saying ‘we can’t give you what you deserve’,” she said.
Khoza said they were still willing to negotiate with the city before making a decision to strike.
“The point we want to make is that we have not accepted the city’s offer – simple as that. However, there is still room to negotiate and we are willing to do that.”
Municipality spokesman, Thabo Mofokeng, said the city had not given up talks with the unions. “It is ongoing. I am not at liberty to discuss the details of our discussions, save to say that we are at the stage where we are engaging with all stakeholders,” he said on Wednesday.
Several city employees said they had had enough of the city’s delaying tactics.
“We want our money even if it means bringing the city to its knees,” one municipal worker said.