The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) has warned that its members will stay away from work should the municipalities fail to address the glaring failures to provide personal protective equipment to workers.
The protest action planned to coincide with the commencement of level 3 lockdown next week will mean critical services in various municipalities such as water and sanitation, municipal clinics, electricity and refuse collection would ground to a halt.
The union says more than 200 of workers mostly in the frontline service has contracted Corona virus since the commencement of a nationwide lockdown in March. Two of these workers both from the Eastern Cape have sadly lost their lives.
Inside Metro Reporter SANDILE MOTHA asked Samwu general secretary Koena Ramotlou about these developments.
Inside Metro: SAMWU has threatened a nationwide stay away in protest against the failure of municipalities to provide workers with personal protective equipment, how big is this crisis in various municipalities?
SAMWU: We have not made a threat of staying away, the union’s recently held National Executive Committee (NEC) took a conscious decision that if workers are not provided with necessary and required PPEs, workers will withdraw their labour, this is not a threat but a warning that would be realized should municipalities continually fail to guarantee the health and safety of workers.
We have noted that municipalities have and continue to fail to guarantee the health and safety of workers. The Occupational Health and Safety Act dictates that it is the responsibility of the employer, including municipalities in this case, to ensure that workers are safe in the workplace. It is against this backdrop and in the interest if the health and safety of our members and their families that the decision to withdraw labour was arrived at.
Municipalities have been failing to provide necessary PPEs to municipal workers for the full and safe execution of their duties. This includes situations wherein some municipalities have indicated that they do not have resources to procure PPEs for workers and resorting to encouraging workers to rather socially distance. It is important to note that in the sector we operate in, it is rare for workers to socially distance as some of the tasks require teams of workers in close proximity.
Some municipalities have asked workers to purchase their own PPEs, we have strongly discouraged our members to agree to this. Municipal workers just do not have money to be subsidizing the employer, as stated previously, the health and safety of workers remains the responsibility of municipalities.
Why was the situation allowed to reach this crisis point?
SAMWU: There are various reasons which have led to this situation to reach this crisis point, but notably it is as a result of the financial situation which municipalities find themselves in. Remember municipalities are supposed to deliver services to South Africans on a shoestring budget of less than 10% of South African government expenditure.
It is for this reason that SAMWU has and continues to call for a review of the funding model of municipalities. Given the fact that most of their clients are just unable to pay for the much-needed services, there is therefore a greater need for municipalities to be prioritized in the budgeting process. Municipalities do not exist for profit making but to fulfil their constitutional mandate of the delivery of services to South Africans. Those who cannot afford these services can therefore not be excluded on the basis of the financial situation they find themselves in, a situation which is not of their own making.
In as much as problems leading to this situation being financial in nature, we should mention the fact that the lack of political will has also contributed to the situation we find ourselves in, resulting in municipalities becoming slaughterhouses for workers.
What services would be affected should this proposed stay away take effect?
SAMWU organizes workers in; waste collection and removal, water and sanitation, emergency departments such as fire and ambulances, traffic and metro policing, electricity, community health workers and clinics, vehicle licensing and testing, parks and zoos, metrobus, road construction and maintenance.
These are workers who need to be protected by municipalities, failure to which these services will be interrupted.
Do you think that this form of protest is fair and just to many citizens who pay and rely heavily on these critical municipal services?
SAMWU: Before we are municipal workers, we are community members and as such any interruption in services affects us too. Services can however not be delivered at the expense of the health and safety of municipal workers.
The union has also expressed displeasure on the posture and attitude of Cogta Minister Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in dealing with these issues that the union is raising head on, please expand on this?
SAMWU: The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) is constitutionally the custodian of the country’s 253 municipalities. We understand and appreciate the fact that during this state of national disaster, the department has been an implementing department for coordinated efforts of National Government. Being in the forefront of this pandemic however does not mean that the department should renege on its constitutional mandate, this is why that department has two Deputy Ministers for vision of labour.
GOGTA has formulated regulations for the national disaster including listing municipal services which are deemed essential during this period.
In formulating these regulations there are no checks and balances mechanism put in place to ensure that municipalities do not unnecessarily expose workers and their families to the virus.
It is as a result of this failure that positive cases among workers continue to rise, in fact it is our contention that COGTA should take blame for the positive cases and the souls that have already been lost as a result of the virus. It is this department that has actually sent workers to slaughterhouses.
How many workers have contracted Covid-19?
Information at our disposal now is that almost 200 members, with a majority of them coming from the Western Cape have contracted the virus. Sadly, we have also recorded two deaths from East London and PE, we once again send our condolences to the families, friends and colleagues.
Lastly, what solutions from government does the union propose to avert the planned stay away?
SAMWU: Guaranteeing the health and safety of municipal workers in line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. COGTA, as the custodian of municipalities, playing a leading role in ensuring that municipalities comply with the very same regulations drafted by the department. A review of the funding model of municipalities.