Durban — A showdown is looming between the workers affiliated with the Municipal and Trade Union South Africa (Matusa) in eThekwini after mayor Mxolisi Kaunda refused to apologise for calling them lazy.
In a recorded interview with a radio station, Kaunda attributed the problems in the city to the laziness of the staff, whom he said were coming late and leaving work early and absconding from work. This prompted an angry response from the union which demanded a retraction and an apology.
The mayor has refused to withdraw his words.
The mayor’s spokesperson, Mluleki Mntungwa, told the Daily News on Tuesday that the mayor stood by his words.
“We stand by the statement. The mayor has communicated a similar message to the management to instil discipline and productivity to the council employees so that service delivery is improved,” said Mntungwa.
In the interview, Kaunda added that some of the workers were not coming to work without having applied for annual leave or without a sick note.
In the two-minutes-and-27-second clip the mayor is also heard warning workers that they will be paid as per the hours they had worked which would drastically reduce their monthly salaries.
“We have implemented a new system for the workers in eThekwini where we will pay workers according to the hours they have worked. We have realised that the city is in this mess because workers were behaving as if they work for their uncles,” he said in the interview.
“We have realised that there are people who are lazy and some do not come to work without having applied for leave. Besides deducting money from their salaries we are also going to dismiss people. We are no longer talking now, it’s time to act,” said the mayor.
Matusa national deputy general secretary Thulani Ngwenya warned Kaunda not to stretch workers’ patience to the limit. He said workers would meet soon and formulate a way forward to respond to Kaunda’s refusal to apologise, adding that workers had hoped he would come to his senses.
“Kaunda was reckless and wrong to blame workers for the mess in the city. It was not true that workers were lazy and not doing their job because it was the incompetence of the management and supervisors that the city had hired that were failing to do their jobs. If he is not seeing anything wrong with what he said, it’s fine but Matusa would not be held accountable for what workers would decide to do for insulting them,” Ngwenya said.
He added that the mayor must produce evidence that workers were being absent without official leave, arguing that the union should have known if there were members facing disciplinary charges because they would have informed him and asked to be represented.
“We regard the mayor's utterances as insults unless he gives us proof of what he has said in the interview. Workers cannot be used as scapegoats for the failures of the mayor and his management,” said Ngwenya.
Ngwenya said he had also written to the station’s news manager to demand a right to reply to what the mayor accused workers of.
The mayor is not only at loggerheads with workers but opposition parties are also baying for his blood for the collapse of infrastructure in the city.
Parties are blaming Kaunda for the drop in the number of tourists that visited the city because of problems with beaches which were suspected to be unsafe.
Even taking a dip into the sea to prove it was safe to swim did not help Kaunda ward off criticism.