Picture: Lizéll Muller

Kimberley - Heavily armed police officers had to be called in to deal with fuming municipal workers who stormed the offices of the municipal manager, Goolam Akharwaray, and held him hostage for several hours on Thursday morning.

Both the Sol Plaatje Municipality and the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) denied yesterday that Akharwaray was held hostage, saying that the event “was nothing but a sit-in by workers who stormed Akharwaray's office”.

However, when the DFA arrived on the scene, heavily armed policemen and women, some of whom were from the Tactical Response Team, had barricaded the corridor leading to Akharwaray’s office as well as the corridor that joins the municipality’s new and old buildings on the first floor.

Close to 100 municipal workers were also standing in the corridors, awaiting to hear from their union leaders who were still in Akharwaray’s offices.

“He (Akharwaray) will sleep here tonight. He is going nowhere until we get what we want,” some of the workers stated.

“We are holding him hostage! He is staying in that office until all our issues have been resolved! We cannot take this any longer,” one municipal worker said.

The door to Akharwaray’s office was heavily guarded by a few police officers and some municipal security personnel.

Some of the municipality’s functions including the pay-points were affected, with the tellers’ windows remaining shut for most of the morning.

Community members were forced to wait for hours or to come back later because the cashiers were nowhere to be seen.”I am angry because I’ll have to come back here later today or tomorrow to pay my rent. Clearly I can’t stand here the whole day because I do not know when they will resume work,” an elderly ratepayer said.

On the first floor, the hostage drama eventually ended at about lunch time when a deal between Akharwaray and the workers was agreed on.

“We have given him two weeks to deal with our issues or we will look at going on strike,” Samwu’s chairman at the municipality, Manne Moremi, said.

He explained that they were demanding the implementation of the wage curve agreement and the permanent appointment of contract workers.

“Our understanding is that although there is a court application to appeal the implementation of the wage curve by the South African Local Government Association (Salga) at national level, we believe that the association’s application does not affect the payment of the workers,” Moremi explained.

He said that they had also given Akharwaray an opportunity to “go back and consult with his human resource division on how best the permanent employment of contract workers at the municipality can be done”.

“The reality is that if he fails to come back to us with satisfactory answers in two weeks’ time, we will convene an urgent meeting with our members to get a new mandate from them. We can assure you that a strike could be on the cards,” Moremi pointed out.

The municipality’s spokesman, Sello Matsie, said that the workers’ problems were being attended to.

“We want to clarify that Akharwaray was not held hostage. The workers stormed his office and staged a sit-in. At no stage during the incident was his life put under threat,” he stated.

“We have told the workers that we don’t have a problem implementing the wage curve back pay as long as we can implement it concurrently with the new task grading system,” Matsie said.

He added that the issue of wage curve arose from Salga’s decision to change the grading of municipality where Sol Plaatje Municipality was moved from a category four to a category six municipality.

“This meant that we had to realign the municipality’s category, which affects the grading of our employees’ salaries and their job descriptions within the municipality.

“We have told Samwu that for us to implement the wage curve we must also implement the new grading of the workers’ job description but they have resisted this move. Therefore we cannot implement the wage curve while using the old grading system,” Matsie added.

In terms of the permanent employment of casual workers, Matsie said that the task team appointed after last year’s strike was still full at work, trying to find ways for the municipality to permanently hire the contract workers.

“The team, that is made up of the union representatives and the municipal management, is investigating if there are available posts where the workers can be accommodated.

“It will also look at the skills of the workers as well whether there is funding for the vacant posts or not,” Matsie added.

Some of the workers told the DFA that they had been working for the municipality on a contract basis for close to 20 years.

“I have been on contract since 1995 and I am earning as little as R5 000 at the municipality. How am I expected to feed my children and my wife with this salary? What pains me is that some of the people who were employed by the municipality after me, have been hired permanently,” a worker stated.

“This municipality does not care whatsoever about us. They keep on lying to us saying that they will permanently employ us but this is not happening,” another worker stated.

Police spokesman, Lieutenant Sergio Kock, said yesterday that the police were called in to monitor the situation at the municipality.

“No incidents were reported.”

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