George municipal workers threaten to strike over Covid-19 danger pay
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MUNICIPAL workers in George are expected to down tools this week in protest over a ‘Covid-19 danger pay’.
Last week, members belonging to the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Unions (IMATU) embarked on a two-day unprotected strike after their demand for compensation for workers who had been on duty during lockdown was met with an offer of a two-day paid leave.
Samwu Southern Cape chairperson Mfundo Mthamo said they were gearing up for a strike on June 17, if talks with the municipality are not productive.
“What pushed members, in the beginning, was the municipality’s response to the offer by saying they can only give workers two days off as opposed to the compensation we had put forward,” he said.
“What we were saying was that give workers either a R20 000 or R15 000 once off payment or add R5 000 per month for the time they worked during the pandemic ensuring that municipal services continued to operate instead they offer time off.
“We took the offer to members who rejected it. We are currently in talks with the municipality, but we don’t see any positive outcome.
“If the employer does not change its mind, we will have no option but to take action. We have already served the municipality with a notice that on June 17, we will embark on a legal strike to voice our concerns.”
However, the municipality said they would not be able to afford the demands of workers as it would cripple its finances.
“The strike action revolves around a request for ‘danger payment’ in addition to their full monthly salaries already received, for work performed during the Covid-19 lockdown,” said the municipality’s Chantel Edwards-Klose in a statement.
“The work performed, which is referred to, are the standard tasks undertaken as per each worker’s job description. Organised labour has demanded a sum of R20 000 per person, for a period of 9 months, which totals a lump sum of R64 million rand.
“This demand is unable to be met by George Municipality, given the losses and financial impact Covid-19 has had on the municipality itself. The payment of R64 million would essentially financially cripple the municipality at a time when there are huge infrastructure demands for the city and place the burden directly on the public in the form of additional rate increases.”
But the unions say the claim of R64million is inaccurate as the R20 000 would be a once-off payment to workers.
Labour lawyer, Greg Duncan, said while there was no legal basis for Covid-19 danger pay, employees and employers can negotiate on this matter.
“Employers and employees or their unions must meet and discuss the issue of the demand, if no agreement is reached, the union may refer to a dispute,” he said.
“Danger pay is not a right while wages are. It depends on the circumstances of the operation.”
Meanwhile, a deal is yet to be reached between Samwu and the South African Local Government Association (Salga) on wage negotiations. Workers are demanding a R2 500 or 7% wage increase along with other benefits while the employer is offering R2.8%. Parties have been deadlocked and a facilitator was brought in this week to continue with the process.