Minister of Human Settlement and Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture :Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has slammed the strike declared by Amatola Water workers, who downed tools last Friday despite being essential service workers.

This comes after Sisulu intervened to resolve their wage dispute, which saw water supplies for several Eastern Cape communities being threatened.

Amatola Water is responsible for the water supply to local municipalities of Amathole and Chris Hani districts.

At the heart of the dispute between the essential services utility, which is accountable to Sisulu’s ministry in terms of the Water Services Act, is the payment of 1.5% of the 8% increase as agreed by the Amanzi Bargaining Council for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years.

The Amatola board had indicated this financial year that the utility’s financial position could not afford to pay the 8% wage increase, which culminated in the strike last week by disgruntled workers.

Following her successful intervention, Sisulu discouraged the industrial action by the workers, emphasising that they were providing an essential service.

“We need all hands on deck to serve the people of the Eastern Cape, who are currently going through difficult times as a consequence of the recent drought,” Sisulu said.

She added: “While our employees are within their constitutional right to embark on a strike action, I appeal to all of them to always be mindful that they are not ordinary employees, as their much-needed service of providing water to the people of South Africa is an essential service.

“I call on each and every one of them to be civil in their approach and always guard against opportunists who often use valid grievances for their selfish interest.”

This is not the first time a minister has had to intervene.

In 2016, former minister of water and sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane had to travel to the Eastern Cape to resolve a dispute between the board and members of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu).

At the time, the labour dispute left residents in the province with limited access to water.

In 2011, Amatola members under the union also joined other colleagues from various water agencies in demanding a 15% increase - or R1700 across the board and a R2000 housing allowance, meal coupon increases, and standby and shift allowances of at least 15%.

It is still unclear on which grounds the union reached consensus with the government, as Samwu regional secretary Luthando Juju has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Political Bureau