Sparks fly over eThekwini staff salary increases, 13th cheque claims
Nicole Graham, the DA’s caucus leader in the city, said they had been reliably informed that 13th cheque for staff remained in the budget to the tune of R600 million.
“This is in addition to a staff increase of 6.25% and performance bonuses,” she said.
Graham has since written to City treasurer Krish Kumar and deputy mayor Belinda Scott, chairperson of the finance portfolio committee, to obtain the exact breakdown of the staff costs.
She said they were demanding this expenditure be removed from the budget.
“In the real world, beyond sheltered government employment, people are taking pay cuts and businesses and families are desperately trying to find ways to make ends meet. Very minimal relief has been offered by the eThekwini Municipality to those who are struggling, while tariffs are set to go up again.
“It is simply unacceptable that staff costs in the municipality go up by more than a billion rand in the coming financial year and that municipal staff receive increases, 13th cheques and performance bonuses,” she said.
The city said that the agreements for salary increments had been signed and sealed at the bargaining council, and it could not take a unilateral decision to reverse the “binding” agreement.
The draft 2020/2021 budget - which has to be tabled before Exco by the end of May - shows that staff costs in the municipality will increase by R1.1bn in the next financial year.
Deputy mayor Belinda Scott requested all queries be directed to mayor Mxolisi Kaunda or Kumar.
“This is the first time I am hearing about this. I really don’t know anything about it and I cannot speak to it,” Scott said.
City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela confirmed receiving the letter from the DA and appealed for space to deliberate on it.
He accused the opposition party of using the plight of the country to score cheap political points and spread a narrative that the municipality did not care for its residents.
“The issue of salary increments was decided in a binding contract at bargaining council and the municipality cannot make a unilateral decision to go against such. The city is pulling out all the stops to minimise costs associated with basic services we are providing. We will never derive any joy from having our residents paying a considerable amount of money for these services but we must all be mindful that the city has a responsibility to live up to its constitutional mandate of providing basic services unceasingly. And it requires revenue for that,” Mayisela said.
He added that the municipality had set aside almost R70m for social relief solely for the poor during this difficult period.
“Why would the city then be branded as uncaring?” he said.
The city suffered a R1.5bn decrease in net income, since the start of the lockdown as the collection rate dropped by at least 40%. In a recent report to city council, the projected loss in revenue for the 2019/2020 financial year-end is estimated at R3.8bn and will result in cash on hand for 39 days.
IFP exco councillor Mdu Nkosi said this was a clear sign that previous agreements with regard to increase salaries should fall away.
Nkosi said the municipality needed to approach the bargaining council to renegotiate the agreement and explain to its employees that the increases could not go ahead.
“We do not support these increases, bonuses or 13th cheques. These are unique times and so unique approaches need to be adopted. We cannot simply say an agreement is in place and there is nothing we can do,” Nkosi said.
The three-year binding agreement for salary increases, has been described as a “sad excuse” by the chief economist at the Efficient Group, Dawie Roodt.
Roodt said while he understood agreements were in place, the reality was that everyone had been pushed into deep financial trouble because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which warranted renegotiating some agreements.
“It is simply unacceptable for a municipality to give bonuses and increases while its residents are losing jobs. It should not only be the private sector taking pain at this time. Municipalities should be cutting back too. The truth is, some of these politicians act as if they are demi-Gods and it is time the taxpayer puts their foot down,” Roodt said.
The DA and IFP are expected to vote against the municipal budget unless changes are made.
Graham urged the public to take a stand against this “immoral lunacy”.
“The public, who are struggling due to this pandemic, cannot be expected to fork out more and more to fund the ridiculous wage bill of the municipality,” she said.