SAMWU statement on City of Tshwane exemption application outcomes| Delivered 12 September 2023 Members of the media,

12 September 2023

SAMWU statement on City of Tshwane exemption application outcomes| Delivered 12 September 2023
Members of the media,

Leadership of SAMWU present here,

Good morning.

SAMWU National Office Bearers have called this press briefing to update yourselves, our members, and communities in general of the plight faced by workers in the City of Tshwane.

Yesterday, the South African Local Bargaining Council (SALGBC) delivered its ruling on the frivolous exemption application lodged by the City of Tshwane to be exempted from paying workers their 5.4% salary and wage increases that workers in the City were supposed to receive with their July salaries.

To fully understand the situation, we will provide a brief background to the series of events which have led us to be where we are today.

1.On SALGBC salary and wage collective agreement

In September 2021, parties in the SALGBC, which includes two trade unions, and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) concluded a three-year salary and wage collective agreement. In the SALGBC, workers are represented by their unions which includes SAMWU while the country’s 257 municipalities are represented by the employers’ body, SALGA.

As per the 2021 salary and wage collective agreement, all municipal workers in the country were supposed to receive a salary increase of 3.5% in 2021, 4.9% in 2022 and 5.4% in July this year. Agreements reached in the SALGBC are binding to all parties in the Bargaining Council.

2.Implementation of the 2021 salary and wage collective agreement

In 2021, the City of Tshwane decided that it would not be paying salary increases to municipal workers. This is after the City argued that it does not have the money to fund the increases for the 2021/22 financial year.

The City further argued that in 2020, workers were given an 18% salary increase. This is however a misrepresentation of the facts, the City knows very well that workers never received such increases. It is in fact the executives who paid themselves these increases, leaving out workers to fend for themselves.

The City then invoked Clause 15.1 of the 2021 salary and wage collective agreement which allows a municipality to apply to be exempted from implementing parts, or the collective agreement as a whole.

As with any exemption application, the Union opposed the application at its hearing before a Senior Commissioner in the SALGBC. The City made its arguments before the Commissioner who ruled against the City and ordered that the City should implement the collective agreement.

3.City rushes to the Labour Court

Instead of implementing the collective agreement as directed by the SALGBC, the City of Tshwane decided to take the ruling of the SALGBC on review at the Labour Court. Since 2021, the matter has never been ventilated at the Labour Court as a result of the dirty tricks that have been employed by the City to delay paying workers what is rightfully and contractually theirs.

Firstly, the City failed to prepare Court documents and file its application within 6 months as per the rules of the Court. When the time lapsed for the City to have filed, the Union approached the Labour Court to request that the matter be deemed withdrawn and archived.

Surprisingly, we were told that the Court file was lost and mysteriously reappeared when the Union was preparing just as the timeframe for the archival was approaching. Despite the delays which were clearly on the City’s side, the Judge has refused to archive the matter and has since instructed parties to file their heads of arguments, thereafter, the matter will be allocated a date.

As SAMWU, we are of the view that the City is using the long and tedious Court processes to frustrate workers with the hope that they will give up on the demand for their 2021 salary and wage increase.

We will however as a Union not abandon the process of demanding that municipal workers be paid their 3.5% salary increases. Our legal team is already working on filing our heads of arguments, we look forward to meeting the City in Court over the 2021 salary and wage increases.

4.City of Tshwane implements 2022 increases

As per the collective agreement, workers were to receive a salary and wage increase of 4.9%. The City implemented this leg of the agreement without any hassle.

It is however important to note that the implementation of the 4.9% salary increase in 2022 has not materially changed the conditions of municipal workers and our members. As a result of the non-implementation of the 2021 leg of the agreement, municipal workers are short changed, they are losing out on the accrued increases from the first leg of the agreement.

Our members and municipal workers in general are simply failing to make ends meet as a result of being shortchanged by their own employer, whom they serve with pride and dedication on a daily basis.

It is the Union’s firm view that the City wants workers to subsidize the operations of the City by interrupting certain legs of the collective agreements. We however will not allow our members to be used as sacrificial lambs and scapegoats for the financial mismanagement and corruption that is happening in Tshwane.

5.City refuses to pay 2023 salary increases

In July this year, our members became furious when they saw their payslips which did not factor in the 5.4% salary and wage increase which they were supposed to receive.

It is important to note that at this point in time, the City had not applied to be exempted from the last leg of the collective agreement. In fact, the executive presented to the Council a budget that did not factor in salary and wage increases when they presented their budget.

On the 26th July, after receiving their salaries without increases, members of the Union marched to Tshwane House to demand that the City pays them their 5.4% salary increase, along with the 3.5% from 2021.

Unfortunately, the march turned violent after police fired stun grenades on workers who were peacefully waiting outside Tshwane House to deliver a memorandum of demands to the Mayor.

6.Tshwane secures a rule nisi

Following the events of the 26th July, the City rushed to the Labour Court claiming that the Union and its members have embarked on an unprotected strike. Unfortunately, the Court issued the City a rule nisi, a temporary court order that is awarded before the matter can be fully ventilated in Court.

As a Union, we want to categorically state that our members have never been on a strike nor has the Union sanctioned any strike action.

This matter was finally ventilated at the Labour Court last week, parties are awaiting the judgement to this effect.

7.Tshwane twice fails to get contempt of Court rulings against the Union

In August, within a space of eight days, the City rushed to the Labour Court, arguing that the Union and its leaders should be held in contempt of Court. In both instances, the City’s case was dismissed as the City could not provide any proof as to why the Union should be held in contempt of Court.

We are however not oblivious to the fact that City tried to use the rule nisi, and the possible contempt of Court ruling to portray the Union as a violent organization. This was also an attempt by the City to gain public sympathy and pit communities against workers.

We have also noted the slanderous allegations which have been made by the Mayor, which fell short of calling SAMWU a terrorist organization, calling for the intervention of National Intelligence. The Mayor is seemingly out of ideas to run the City, workers are only demanding one thing; the payment of their salary increases.

To ensure that indeed community members turned against workers, the City withdrew several services, barricaded several municipal buildings with razor wires to prevent workers from accessing the workplace.

This illegal lockout of employees resulted in a collapse in service delivery within the City and the unfortunate shooting of a SAMWU member while on duty.

It is these types of actions by the City that have made workers to be vulnerable to criminal elements who have used the stalemate between the Union and the City to ensure that they keep getting contract work from the City, a City which deliberately refused workers to report for duty, compromising service delivery in the process.

The City has also illegally and procedurally dismissed dozens of workers, while many workers have had their salaries withheld as the City claims that these workers have not been working.

As a Union, we have been and will continue challenging these dismissals and the illegal withholding of workers’ salaries.

8.City applies for exemption

In early August, the City finally applied for exemption. Essentially, the City wanted SALGBC to ratify its decision to exempt itself from paying workers their salary increases for the second time in three years.

The exemption hearing was heard by a Senior Commissioner under the auspices of the SALGBC who, after hearing arguments made by the City and the Unions, made a determination to dismiss the application by the City.

Interestingly, the Commissioner found that the City which had been claiming financial challenges as the reason to not implement the collective agreement actually does have the money. In the last financial year, the City has budgeted over R12 billion for salary costs, however the City had a surplus of over R1 billion. The total amount needed to fund this leg of the collective agreement is only R601 million. This is some evidence that disprove lack of resources as an excuse to not pay workers their increases.

We are well aware that the decision not to pay workers their salary increases is a political decision which came from the upper structures of the DA. While addressing the Gauteng Provincial Congress last month, the DA leader John Steenhuisen made remarks to the effect that “if you are unable to tell SAMWU that there is no money for salary increases, you will have nothing to inherit.”

These remarks are problematic in two ways, (1) The DA’s national leadership has overstepped its boundaries and is now found making administrative decisions. (2) What is there that the DA wants to inherit? Why do workers have to be sacrificed for people to get their inheritance?

We need not remind the DA that public administration is not a kingdom where people get to inherit governance and resources. Importantly, the DA wants to drag the Union and its members into a political space.

SAMWU is a trade union and not a political party!

9.Way forward

Following the release of the SALGBC ruling, the City of Tshwane moved quickly to pour cold water on the achievements of the Union for its members by indicating that they will be approaching the Labour Court to review this ruling.

Although the City does have the right to review the decision at the Labour Court, the Mayor, Cllr Cilliers Brink has been all over the show saying that the City has a strong case which they will argue before the SALGBC. Instead, the SALGBC has shown that the City does not have the resources to fund these increases.

We once more implore the Mayor to reconsider the decision to review the SALGBC ruling in at the Labour Court. Cllr Brink has repeatedly said that he, along with his administration, respects collective bargaining. If indeed the Mayor respects collective bargaining, he will adhere to the outcomes of collective bargaining processes and not rely on the judiciary to relegate municipal workers to poverty and starvation.

As we have seen with the 2021 leg of the agreement, Court processes are tedious, workers are hungry, they need this increase to catch up with the rising cost of living. It has been proven that the City does have the money to pay these increases, the only thing lacking is political willingness.

If the City really cares about its employees, it will ensure that workers are paid their 3.5% and 5.4% salary increases. It cannot be correct that workers are denied salary increases for two times within a space of three years.

These are simply the hallmarks of an employer that simply does not care about the wellbeing of its employees.
We need to stress the fact that the decision by the Mayor to take this ruling on review will, without doubt anger many workers who are already frustrated by the way they are being treated. When workers decide to take matters into their own hands, the City will have to take blame for the consequences that will come.

As SAMWU, we will however continue to defend the interests of our members and ensure that they are paid what is due to them. It is for this reason that the Union’s legal team is already on standby to act, should the City proceed with its intention to review this ruling.

We also want to plead to the consciousness of all Councilors represented in Tshwane, across all political lines to act in the best interest of workers and service delivery. They cannot be spectators when workers’ rights are being trampled upon by the Executive.

Lastly, we want to assure our members that the Union’s leadership will continue fighting until the salary and wage collective agreement is implemented in its entirety by the City of Tshwane.

10. SAMWU calls for intervention from the Gauteng Provincial Government

As a Union, we have noted that the City, in particular the Mayor has on numerous occasions indicated that the City is facing financial challenges. It is however our view that the City is not facing any financial challenges but governance issues.

This was confirmed by the select committee on COGTA which stated that the challenges in the City of Tshwane is lack of capacity to manage its finances. It is therefore important that the City should ensure that necessary capacity is appointed to City’s finances. Recent utterances by the Mayor have also confirmed that his executive is struggling to provide oversight on the City’s finances. It is unfortunate that the Executive Mayor advised Council to adopt an unfunded budget contrary to advice from National treasury.

SAMWU therefore calls for both National Treasury and Gauteng Provincial Government to invest necessary capacity in the City of Tshwane for proper financial management and submission of books to Auditor General. The South African Constitution provides for the intervention of government in municipalities that cannot manage their finances.

The Constitution further provides for the Provincial Government to play an oversight role in municipalities. Through this intervention, the Provincial Government will be able to put in place a financial recovery plan for the municipality.

Issued by SAMWU Secretariat