Wayne Osrin is a plumber and says he cannot afford E-tolling. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

Sheree Bega

A costly custody battle for his child, the crippling effects of the economic recession and clients who refuse to pay him. Add the price tag of the e-tolls to this, and Wayne Osrin and his plumbing business will be wiped out.

Already, the stress of his mounting bills is making him ill. Last week, Osrin ended up in hospital with a painful stomach ulcer and has just forked out thousands to see a cardiologist for the chest pains that have been knocking the breath out of him. He had to pay a couple of thousand more to fix his car after a giant pothole wrecked it recently.

“You can’t believe if you do a plumbing job how you battle to get paid,” explains Osrin, of Norwood, north of Joburg. “Yesterday my guys went to Krugersdorp. Can you imagine for a geyser of R6 000, I’ll probably only make R900 at the end of everything.

“I’m in with an insurance company and I have to come in at a low price to supply and fit the geysers and because I’m coming in so low, I’m not making enough money.”

The cost of the e-tolls, scheduled to kick in at month-end, on his struggling business will be unbearable. He feels so passionately about fighting the prospect of e-tolling that he submitted his affidavit in support of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance recently.

Like others in the plumbing industry, he and his staff have no choice but to use to the proposed toll road network – and drive through the numerous gantries. “All the jobs are far from me – in Krugersdorp, Roodepoort and Kempton Park and so forth. The petrol from here to Krugersdorp, it’s so much. We keep getting hit by the government. But they don’t fix the road. They just make one another rich.

“We’re coming in so cheap on our geysers, and they take the whole day to fit. We’re on the highways all the time. I can’t afford to pay my guys at the moment, and I’ve never done that in all the years I’ve had my company. Now with the tolls, it would wipe me out, that I promise you. It would finish me.”

Osrin, 49, set up Wayne’s Plumbing over 15 years ago, and remembers when he had extra money to cushion his business. But now he faces the dreadful prospect of letting his workers go, especially if he has to fork out extra to cover the costs of driving on the national roads.

Already, his staff work on rotation – effectively only getting paid for two weeks of work a month. “They understand, but I don’t want to work like this. I want to pay my guys. I’ve been losing a lot of money. I had to go to court to get full custody of my daughter. I still pay maintenance. There’s not much work out there at the moment. If these tolls actually come in I’m finished.”

He has had to move his business to his house. “The people who work for me are like my family. But it’s come to a stage where I’m losing so much money I can’t keep my head above water. I haven’t got the heart to let them go. It hurts me as my guys have been with me 10 years.

“It’s terrible. At the same time, I’ve got my domestic, whose son was starving and had to come here. Her daughter is here and just had a baby. All of this plus me trying to just cover my costs and I’m just not covering them. I ran into huge debt because I was not getting paid fast enough. It’s just expenses hitting me all over the place.”

He cannot proceed with debt counselling because he will lose his suppliers. “Five years ago I was able to save a little bit, now I’m borrowing from this one to pay that one. I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Five years ago, I would’ve paid the e-tolls. But (now) I just don’t have any money left.”