File picture: Sibusiso Ndlovu/African News agency(ANA).

DURBAN – The eThekwini Municipality has decided not to apply the "no work, no pay" principle for city employees who gridlocked and trashed the Durban city centre and brought services to a halt during a wildcat strike earlier this month.

The issue came under discussion at an executive council sitting on Tuesday where a short report, described as “flimsy” by the DA, was tabled.

According to the report, prepared by the city’s corporate and human resources cluster, the "no work, no pay principle" was waived on a non-precedential basis for the period April 23 to May 7, the duration of the strike.

The waiver was conditional to employees returning to work by May 8 and 9, which they did, and was part of a settlement agreement between worker unions and the city.

Thousands of municipal employees, mostly from the water and sanitation unit, caused chaos in the city in late April and early May by driving municipal trucks into the CBD, blocking roads, tipping out rubbish and setting it alight. 

The workers damaged municipal infrastructure, leaving some areas without water for up to 10 days. Rotting rubbish was left piling up in the streets. 

Violent altercations took place between striking workers and the police and non-striking workers were intimidated. Several shop stewards were attacked, with four people arrested in connection with the assaults.

The workers were protesting the salary upgrades of 55 “supernumerary” (over and above what was needed) water services officers, who were ANC military veterans. The dispute was eventually relegated to the bargaining council.

Responding to the strike report, DA eThekwini caucus leader, Nicole Graham, wanted to know how out of the hundreds of people that initially applied for the supernumerary posts, only military veterans were chosen.

“So who took this decision?” asked Graham at the meeting. Until this question was answered, she said, the strike issue would not be resolved.

Graham said it was yet to be explained how, from the start of the strike action, the employees were able to access municipal vehicles which were then used to cause havoc in and around the city.

“No one is saying whether there were managers involved – there must have been... Some of them must have been complicit,” she said. The strike action was a result of a bad political decision, she said.

But Mayor Zandile Gumede, out on bail after being charged two weeks ago for fraud and corruption relating to a multi-million rand 2016 Durban Solid Waste tender, said the decision to employ and raise the pay grades of the supernumerary posts was administrative, not political.  

Graham denied this, saying: “It was not an administrative decision, we all know it wasn’t administrative. Why doesn’t someone tell us whose bright idea it was [to make a decision that] brought the city to its knees for two weeks, and then all we get is this flimsy report?”

Gumede called for an “independent” investigation and said it was unfair that she was being targeted as a reason for the strike.

“I will not be taking this lying down. Let the heads roll from those who did wrong for this city. I am the one who said I would fight whatever corruption is in these halls.

“It can’t be that this city becomes a banana republic city. It can’t be. Let the truth be told so that my name can be cleared. Enough is enough for me as a mayor,” said Gumede.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) meanwhile, said that the settlement agreement reached between eThekwini and unions rewarded protesters and punished residents.

Outa eThekwini spokesman, Jonathan Erasmus, said that a decision to waive the "no work, no pay" principle was "a terrible decision that rewarded criminality". 

Erasmus also raised issue with another one of the settlement agreements reached, that employees could apply to regrade their posts in terms of the Jobs Evaluation Policy. 

"Much more information is needed before any regrading process occurs. This would include how many staff could be affected, the administrative motivation for the regrading, as well as the cost implications for the city,” he said.

He said it was likely that the regrading process was unbudgeted and, if implemented, would see resources diverted from key areas such as repairs and maintenance. 

“The city must investigate the wildcat strike action and continue with disciplinary action. The strike put residents’ health, safety and well-being in serious jeopardy,” said Erasmus.

Despite slamming the city's decision, the civil action group said it welcomed a commitment by Gumede, that an independent investigation would be initiated into the strike. 

African News Agency (ANA)