Media reports revealed yesterday that about 60 workers employed by the KwaZulu-Natal Premier’s Office to serve the king and his queens were threatening to strike over claims of nepotism and increased allowances.
The reports also mentioned that the drivers were up in arms after the employment of the king’s relatives, princes Wiseman Nhlakanipho Zulu and Mathubesizwe Reginald Zulu as drivers. The duo were reportedly hired on higher salary scales than the current employees.
The SA State and Allied Workers’ Union reportedly threatened to protest at the king’s palaces. The drivers also complained about unroadworthy vehicles. However, they did not reveal if the unroadworthy vehicles included those used to drive the king and his queens.
Thami Ngidi, spokesperson for Premier Willies Mchunu, confirmed to The Mercury yesterday that the workers, including drivers, had raised grievances.
He said his understanding was that the drivers were being paid overtime “but they are not being paid the overtime money that they want”.
“In other words, they are claiming over and above the overtime that is approved by the system.
“They are saying instead of ‘my overtime being R10, it should be R20’,” he said.
Ngidi said other drivers also had an issue with not being compensated for transporting the king across the borders of South Africa.
“They go to Swaziland and you know that the king normally travels to countries like Swaziland, and they want to be compensated in line with international rates, which is not part of their conditions of employment. It is not that they are not getting paid overtime, but they want a certain quantity of compensation,” he said.
On the issue of unroadworthy vehicles they are driving during their official duties, Ngidi said the king was not subjected to danger since “you know that the king is driven in a Mercedes, which are new and expensive and well maintained”.
“They might be talking about government vans and trucks, which are branded Royal Household. Those vehicles are being driven on bad terrain. A lot of them have been wrecked by some of the drivers. They crashed the vehicles although I am not saying they did it intentionally.
“It is true that a number of vehicles of the Royal Household had to undergo ongoing maintenance due to recklessness of the drivers, and some of the vehicles had to be written off,” he said.
Regarding the employment of the king’s relatives on higher salaries than their colleagues, Ngidi said people were employed on a certain grade which determined their salary.
“When it is advertised it is done so at that grade and you get compensated at that level.
“It is a fact that people are hired on a grade which was advertised,” he said.
He said the process of employment of drivers was consistent and was without favouritism.
When approached for comment, the king’s spokesperson Prince Mbuyiseni Zulu said the king’s office could not comment since it was not in charge of employing staff.
“Those people are controlled by the administrative office, the premier’s office deals with such issues,” said Prince Mbuyiseni.
A National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union leader, who asked not to be named, said the union members who worked for the king had for years encountered problems with working conditions.
“Since I am on leave I am not going to be able to elaborate,” he said.
The premier said although he was not involved with staff issues, he would like to understand the grievances and attend to them.
“If the drivers of the king say the vehicles are not safe, it means the king is also not safe.
“Whenever the king has problems with vehicles, he normally informs me and the director-general.
“This is a serious matter, which I need to investigate,” he said.