Durban - More than 20 000 eThekwini Municipality employees are threatening to down tools, claiming they are owed millions of rand in back pay after a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling.
The employees, some who are allegedly owed up to R200 000 each, are to decide this week on dates for possible strike action, which they warn will “bring the city to a halt”.
They are angry that eight months after the appeal court reversed the conditions of service agreement – implemented by the city in 2007 – and ordered the employer to back pay affected employees who had been stripped of allowances and other benefits, they are still waiting for their money.
In October, in the wake of the ruling, city manager S’bu Sithole established a technical task team to quantify the financial implications for the municipality.
There were fears at the time that the ruling could bankrupt the city, but Sithole had dismissed this.
According to municipal union sources, eThekwini owes workers almost R100 million, which could have a crippling effect on the municipality’s finances.
The municipality, however, contends that what it owed employees would be off-set by the monies it was owed by some employees who had been overpaid when the conditions of service agreement was implemented. The unions have vowed to fight any attempts to get employees to pay back money.
They believe the city is in contravention of the court ruling.
On Monday night, city representatives met with the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) and a report by the task team was discussed.
Imatu’s regional manager, Themba Shezi, said that the negotiations had been conducted in good faith, but they had still not found common ground on the city’s attempts to get employees to pay back monies.
He said Imatu would be meeting with employees today to give them feedback on the meeting. The option to strike was very much on the table, he said.
“Their anger is justifiable. We need to go back to them with what the city has said and it will be up to them what we do next.”
Imatu and Samwu plan to hold mass meetings with their members to discuss a mandate for a strike.
The municipality’s spokesman, Thabo Mofokeng, said the discussions between the city and the unions should be allowed to take its course. “The technical task team has made progress in undertaking this massive and complex exercise, which goes back seven years and involves many thousands of employees with numerous previous different conditions of service and three different pay systems,” he said.
“The technical task team has now presented its report to the city manager and the union leadership, and discussions have commenced at that level regarding a suitable way forward.
“These discussions are ongoing and have not been finalised as yet. It is consequently premature to provide specific answers related to amounts, payment and time frames, particularly as the matter will need to be further considered by the executive committee,” Mofokeng said.
Jaycee Ncanana, provincial secretary of Samwu, however, accused the city of using “delaying tactics”.
He said the city was deliberately dragging its feet over finalising payments and the task team was set up purely to “neutralise workers”.
The Daily News spoke to several municipal employees who said they were prepared to go on strike to get what is owed to them.
A metro policeman, who asked anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media, said he was owed almost R200 000 in back pay. When the city changed the condition of service agreements in 2007 he, with hundreds of colleagues, were stripped of their omnibus allowances, he said.
“Depending on your grade, we lost anything between R1 200 and R1 600 a month. Now it is time to pay and they are dragging their feet. What makes this even harder for us to swallow is that we read in the Daily News that the senior city managers are getting big fat bonuses,” he said.
The Daily News recently reported that 16 senior managers were being given more than R1.4m in total as performance bonuses.