21 February 2019

South Africa: Workers in Finance Department Down Tools in Pietermaritzburg

Municipal employees say they work in terrible conditions and their office equipment and computers do not function

Workers in the revenue section of the Msunduzi Local Municipality, Pietermaritzburg, downed tools on Wednesday. Cashiers, credit controllers, validators and other workers in the rates section sat down in the reception area of the A.S. Chetty Building on Church Street and stopped work.

Residents who came to pay their bills were told to make their municipal payments at Pick 'n Pay.

The workers, who were still on strike Thursday morning, were demanding a wage increase and better working conditions. They say they are unable to issue electricity and water statements to clients because the office equipment, including scanners, photocopiers and computers, is broken.

"We started writing letters [to management] in 2016," said Sanele Zuma. "The chairs are old and broken. Our furniture is disgusting. We bring cushions to cover the torn chairs."

According to Zuma, a new computer system was introduced and it is faulty. Some people say they have not received their municipal statements or that the information is wrong or out of date. "Customers think we are incompetent," said Zuma.

Workers showed GroundUp a faulty photocopier which serves 18 employees, a tiny kitchen which has a broken chair, and a leaking roof that has left the carpet stained.

Ntokozo Ntuli said, "The air conditioners are not working. Our chairs are broken and the phones are not working. We bring our own fans to work. The worst part are the toilets. Some have been broken for months."

"We earn peanuts ... We do jobs that are outside of our job description. The workload has been added to, but the money is still less," said Nomsa Zindela.

"We won't return to work until they listen to our demands," said Sandile Zulu. "The only language they understand is downing tools."

Msunduzi spokesperson Ntobe Ngcobo at first confirmed that some members of staff from the finance business unit had joined an unprotected strike and that senior management was dealing with the matter.

But on Thursday afternoon in a media statement, senior management said the workers were no longer on strike.

At a meeting officials of the finance unit "raised a number of concerns which included job evaluation, job grading, high vacancy rate, acting appointments as well as the tools of trade".

The municipality also noted with "great concern" that some employees from the Waste Management Unit were being prevented from conducting their duties by the striking employee.

"An urgent court interdict was obtained today (21 February) from the Labour Court against the striking employees ... We advise residents that waste collection has resumed; the human resource capacity has also been increased to ensure that the refuse removal backlog is cleared by the end of the week. We appeal for patience from the residents during this time," the statement said.

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