Durban - Striking eThekwini municipality workers are gathering to discuss the options available to them on Friday, after several protesters were arrested in the Durban city centre on Thursday.
Police fired rubber bullets on Thursday evening to disperse several municipal employees that had gathered outside city hall during the day. Union members told the Daily News that at least 30 people were arrested on Thursday but this could not be independently verified on Friday morning.
A week long protest by the eThekwini water department, eThekwini electricity, eThekwini roads and the Durban Solid Waste has prompted the city management to take legal action against striking staff.
The municipality refuses to explain how the salaries of 55 uMkhonto we Sizwe military veterans more than doubled in a year, saying that the matter was being investigated.
Striking staff demand an equal pay package.
The city has decided to take the grievances of workers who want to be elevated from grade 4 to grade 10 to the central bargaining council to deliberate on the matter and make a ruling. Discussions at the bargaining council are expected to be concluded in 30 days.
eThekwini Municipality Mayor, Zandile Gumede said the protests were illegal and welcomed a court interdict against the illegal strike.
She said the municipality was working with a team to look into the city's recruitment process adding that the city manager was working with this team and had made all the relevant information available for scrutiny.
"I want to dispel the notion that the municipality favours military veterans and does not care about other municipal workers. The city will continue to ensure that military veterans, youth, women and people with disabilities are supported in accordance with labour relations act and Military Veterans Act," Gumede said.
Gumede who has been accused of ordering the veterans to be hired, also denied having anything to do with employing and firing staff.
On Tuesday, the city’s water, sanitation and electricity employees embarked on a strike and went on a rampage in the Durban CBD, upset over the increases given to the veterans, which took their salaries from R9000 to R20000 a month.
The city said it decided to halt the increases for the veterans, pending a probe.
On Thursday, hundreds of workers used municipal trucks to block roads in the CBD, including Pixely KaSeme (West), Anton Lembede (Smith) and Monty Naicker (Pine) streets, causing major traffic congestion.
They marched to the city hall, where they gathered as their union representatives met city officials.
The SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) Jaycee Ncanana said they accepted the proposal going to the council because the city was not forthcoming with other options.
“After lengthy consultations between us and the union representatives, we decided to refer the matter to the central bargaining council for further negotiations and determination.Discussions will start on Monday," Ncanana said.
A task team under the guidance of Premier Willies Mchunu and Public Works MEC Ravi Pillay has been set up to review this process.
City manager Sipho Nzuza appealed to the workers to resume their duties with immediate effect.
“The principle of no work, no pay will apply and workers could face disciplinary action as the city has obtained an interdict, making it unlawful to participate in this strike,” he said.
On Thursday, the hostile crowd became violent towards people taking pictures and videos of them as they marched down Pixley KaSeme Street, forcing them to delete images and footage.
Outside the city hall they chanted “We have no money, Gumede”, “You messed up, Zandile” as well as “We want Grade 10”.
Meanwhile, 80 contractors under the city’s water and sanitation department will also march to the city hall on Monday to hand over a memorandum regarding payments owed to them by the city.
One of these contractors, Skhumbuzo Sibiya, said they were owed money from last year by the city - on average each contractor was owed at least R100000.
“I am owed R200 000. This is for work done from March to September. Our efforts to get our money through officials at the Springfield plant have been fruitless and that is why we now want the city manager to intervene,” he said.