An Emfuleni municipal building has had to be closed down by occupational health officers for the second time this year due to a sewer pump not working, resulting in sewage spilling into the basement and leaving many employees sick.
 Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA)
Johannesburg - Emfuleni Local Municipality employees are reluctant to return to work in a building where they had to contend with a foul stench from raw sewage that permeated throughout their offices.

For months, hundreds of employees working at the OK building at CR Swart Street in Vanderbijlpark - said to cost the cash-strapped municipality R900 000 in monthly rentals - were forced to evacuate their workplace after the embattled municipality received a damning prohibition notice by department of labour compelling the municipality to shut down the building.

The municipality admitted that a sewer overflow caused by broken pipes in the basement of the building was the cause of the stench that led to unsafe working conditions in the building and that it (the municipality) was working to fix the pipelines.

Earlier this month, workers embarked on a strike as a way of compelling the municipality to act.

Mamolutsi Manyane said she had an eye infection and experienced swelling on her face as the stench in the building intensified. 

“My eyesight problem was really bad and I experience a lot of facial rash and my doctor said it was as a result of the sewage from work,” she said.

Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union deputy chairperson in Emfuleni, Moses Mohosho, said they backed the go-slow because many employees were suffering from different ailments as a result of the sewage spill and stench that spread throughout the building.

“Employees have been complaining about this building since 2012 but they were forced to continue with their work. Many people are sick. Some ladies had miscarriages as a result of the conditions of the OK building,” said Mohosho.

“I understand there is an ongoing fight between the landlord and Emfuleni, but employees should not suffer inside that building. As a union we are going to ask the mayor to table plans for this building,” said Mohosho.

DA caucus leader in Emfuleni, Edward Von Bodenstein, said his suspicions were that property owners could not maintain the building since the municipality owed them R3.8 million.

“The municipality rents the building for R900 000 per month for the first and second floor and is occupied by about 200 employees. As soon as this issue of sewage spillage in the building was brought to our attention, we spoke to the municipal manager and the mayor. 

"It is a result of a sewerage system which has not been maintained. As we have been pushing for municipality that workers be removed from an unsafe working environment,” said Von Bodenstein - adding that this move should have been effected a long time ago.

The Department of Labour said it would check if the building would be in good condition before workers could go back to work.

“We issued the prohibition notice for the municipality to conduct the assessment to clean the building. But we did not give them a deadline as to when they should be done, but no one should occupy that building before they are done with the refurbishments. Once they are done with the refurbishment process we will visit the building.”

Emfuleni spokesperson Stanley Gaba said the municipality was negotiating with employees, urging them to return to the building as it had been fixed and was safe to be re-occupied.

The Sunday Independent