Municipal workers union, the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) has scored another victory after the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) ruled against the ANC-run and corruption-tainted Enoch Mgijima local municipality.
The Eastern Cape municipality wanted to be exempted from effecting 2023-2024 salary increments of 5.4% for its staff which was due to kick in this past July.
It cited financial difficulties that started with the 2016 merger of three local municipalities, the erstwhile Tsolwane, Inkwanca and Lukhanji municipalities.
The municipality claimed that during the merger, the employees of the former two municipalities picketed and demanded to be paid at the same level as the latter municipality's employees.
That took them from municipal category 1 pay levels to category 4 levels.
It said much the same happened in 2018/2019 when, through industrial action, the employees managed to receive pay at municipal category 6 levels (and task grades were improved).
In its fight against the move, Imatu pointed out that the municipality was being dishonest in its application, as it deprived workers of increments while hiking salaries for councillors by 1 percent.
It added that it was of the view that the the municipality was the author of its financial difficulties by way of mismanagement, inefficient leadership, illegal council resolutions, irregular and reckless spending, paying acting allowances and more.
In addition, the rate of debt collection had deteriorated, grants had been overspent, "other expenditure" had increased and considerable amounts had been spent on a multi-purpose hall, refuse bags, advertising, stationary and fuel.
The union also pointed out that the municipality did not apply for a debt relief that would have seen crippling Eskom debt scrapped.
Samwu (South African Municipal Workers Union) which was the second respondent in the matter, also filed papers where it claimed that the arguments advanced by the municipality were not holding water.
The Cosatu-affiliated union told the arbitrator that it was of the opinion that the Applicant's financial position was of its own creation and cited examples of unexplained or wasteful expenditure.
It pointed out that contracted services like hiring of security companies was ballooning and while there was an increase in revenue and in the cash-flow,there was a decrease in debt collection.
In his ruling, the arbitrator appointed by the bargaining council, Krish Kumar, noted that the municipality’s financial situation does not look very optimistic at this time and he had concerns about it.
However, he added, in the bigger scheme, an increase of some R23m in salaries and wages, plus benefits will not have a critical or undue impact on the Applicant's situation, given the fact that assistance can, and if properly managed, will come from the recovery plan and hopefully the debt relief programme.
“The application for exemption is thus dismissed. However, I deem it appropriate that the Applicant be afforded some time to implement the increases, which were supposed to be paid with effect July 1, 2023. This, I believe, is fairness to both sides," Kumar ruled.
To pay the staff salaries, the municipality was ordered by Kumar to review and adjust its budget.
“The adjusted budget must provide for the payment of increases in respect of July 2023 until February 2024 at the end of February 2024 and for the payment of the increased monthly amounts in respect of every month after February 2024.
“The Applicant is further ordered to follow the legal requirements and procedures to have the adjustments budget approved so that the payments in respect of July 2023 - February 2024 are paid at the end of February 2024,” the arbitrator ruled.