"We can't let our people be used as [if] bulletproof," shouted Nomvula Hadi, shop steward for the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU).
About 70 workers from SAMWU and Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU) were protesting inside the busy Mfanasekhaya Gqobose municipal building in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday morning.
The two unions are outraged by the employment of a dozen workers from the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to do the work of employees in the Assistance to the Poor and Rebates programme (ATTP), apparently on a five-month contract.
The EPWP employees are tasked with verifying the home ownership of residents who might qualify for rebates for municipal services such as electricity and water. They will be expected to visit Hellenvalle, Motherwell and New Brighton, which the unions have declared dangerous no-go areas.
"Those people are our families. They are not bulletproof. We can't let them work in no-go areas," said Hadi. "One month down the line, they are coming back, saying they have been shot at in those dangerous areas. These people are not made of stones."
"This institution is now exploiting our people ... They must employ people permanently," said Hadi.
Hadi and IMATU shop steward Deon Tarentaal said the municipality had consulted neither the workers nor their unions.
Tarentaal said workers had met management who had acknowledged there was a backlog of 40,000 people awaiting verification for rebates. "We developed a strategy to resolve the backlog," he said.
"But today, the management has changed that decision - by employing 12 EPWP people to do the job, earning R5,000 instead of R19,000 as the ATTP employees [do]."
Acting Director of Revenue Management Joel Swartz arrived at the protest and pleaded with workers to go back to work. "We will consult with the CFO [Chief Financial Officer] and come with a draft plan. We have heard you."
The workers returned to work.