Johannesburg - After weeks of frustration caused by the piles of trash littering the streets and their doorsteps, Joburg residents can finally breathe a collective sigh of relief that Pikitup workers will be back at work on Monday.
News that the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and Pikitup had reached an agreement to end the crippling strike, effective immediately, was announced on Saturday by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which facilitated the settlement.
But as negotiations on salary and other issues are still going to be ironed out over the next three days, there is still a worry that the strike could begin once again.
Member of the City of Joburg’s mayoral committee for environment and infrastructure services, Matshidiso Mfikoe, was quick to call the settlement “the most special agreement we have ever had” in the city.
“I slept for the first time in weeks yesterday,” she said, “because I knew there was a commitment driven by the city and the union to say to the City of Joburg that we are going to resolve the problems we have.”
Mfikoe was speaking at a media briefing on Sunday.
The city hopes its recovery plan will take one month.
In terms of the agreement, workers were expected to return to work on Sunday evening. Pikitup will make a one-time payment of R750 to all Grade A and B workers, but this amount might be discussed during this week’s negotiations.
Trish Hanekom, chairwoman of the Pikitup board, said the R750 payment was meant to ensure that there is equal pay for equal work and equal tenure.
“That is what is going to happen over the three days, commencing tomorrow, to ensure that any disparity that there might be as an organisation is resolved,” Hanekom said.
In case a salary agreement cannot be reached by Wednesday, Dumisani Dakile, the provincial secretary of Cosatu, said “depending on the nature and extent of differences or disagreement” involved, parties will discuss other possibilities.
He said it was possible the workers would either go on strike again, or work with the CCMA.
Hanekom said even in the “very unlikely event” that an agreement isn’t reached by Wednesday, there will be no stoppage on Thursday.
Nonceba Mbilini, provincial secretary of Samwu, said if there was no agreement, Samwu “will reserve our rights as a union... we will communicate the decision to the parties involved to say ‘these are the steps we need to take’.”
And because workers were on strike for such a long period of time and because of the “no work, no pay” principle, deductions to salaries would be made in instalments, 50 percent of the deduction would be deferred and the remaining two instalments of 25 percent will be deducted in May and June.
Dakile said some may wonder how the strikers would financially recover from not working for a month. Regarding the deductions, Mfikoe said the parties involved recognised the workers needed to make an income.
Samwu members went on the strike on March 9 demanding wage increases and the dismissal of Pikitup managing director Amanda Nair. It was often violent and companies hired to help clean up the trash had to do so in secret and at night to avoid being attacked by striking workers. About 4 000 workers are facing disciplinary action for their involvement in the strike.
Regarding allegations of corruption by workers surrounding Nair, Mfikoe said an investigation is ongoing of “about 18 transgressions” which have not been made public yet.
Hanekom said “Samwu has raised some issues” that are being investigated.
Mfikoe said contracted service providers would clear backlogs in the city to ensure that uncollected refuse was gone by the end of the month.
The agreement comes after weeks of waste piling up on Joburg’s streets, which created health hazards, including a rat increase.
In response to the strike, Pikitup increased its refuse collection rates.