20 October 2023
SAMWU strongly condemns Mathjabeng suspensions of Shopstewards for demanding health and safety in the workplace.
The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) is deeply outraged by the suspensions of 23 SAMWU Shopstewards at the Mathjabeng Local Municipality in the Free State. These suspensions were metered out against our Shopstewards who spoke out against the municipality deliberately exposing workers to an unsafe and healthy working environment, in violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA). What greatly concerns us is the procedural flaws and the violation of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) evident in these intention-to-suspend letters.
On September 26th, workers raised a concern with the Office of the Municipal Manager, Mr. Lonwabo Nqoco, regarding the unavailability of water at the municipal office the whole week. This situation posed a significant health risk to the municipal workers who were working in that building. Regrettably, despite these concerns being brought to the attention of the Municipal Manager, no action was taken to address the issue. In response to the lack of action, our Shopstewards took the initiative to approach the Health and Safety Department of the municipality. Subsequently, the Health and Safety Department conducted a thorough assessment and compiled a report detailing the health hazards within the building. The report which was delivered to the Municipal Manager and Director Corporate Services, emphasized the urgent need for immediate and comprehensive remedial actions to make the building habitable and safe for all.
Instead of addressing the legitimate health and safety concerns that were raised by the Shopstewards or taking action based on the report from the Health and Safety Department, the municipality chose to issue intentions to suspend all SAMWU Shopstewards. It is important to emphasise that the health and safety of workers in the workplace is non-negotiable and should be complied with, in accordance with OSHA regulations, which mandate employers to ensure a safe and healthy working environment. OSHA further grants employees the right to refuse to work in an unsafe and unhealthy environment, provided that the employer has been duly informed of these hazards. This is precisely the process that our Shopstewards followed diligently.
On 3 October, the Union’s National Secretariat promptly responded to these intention to suspension letters, highlighting that they are in direct violation of Schedule 8 (4)(2) of the LRA, which explicitly states that “disciplinary actions against a trade union representative or an employee who holds office in a trade union should not be initiated without prior notification and consultation with the trade union.” Furthermore, these Shopstewards were acting in the best interests of the health and safety of all workers within the municipality, including the Municipal Manager and the Mayor.
Despite the Union’s clear warnings and the written representations explaining why these Shopstewards should not be suspended, Mathjabeng proceeded with the unlawful and procedurally flawed suspensions of these Shopstewards. SAMWU views this as a deliberate effort by the municipality to suppress workers from speaking out against violations committed by the municipality, weaken the Union, undermine the LRA and OSHA, and erode labour relations.
We are aware that these suspensions are driven more by political motives than genuine concerns for workplace issues. It appears that Thanduxolo Khalipha has weaponised the municipal administration to further his political ambitions at the expense of the well-being of workers. Khalipha, who has earned the nickname “National Mayor” due to his close ties to the ANC’s national and provincial offices, has embarked on a campaign to purge any worker who dares to speak out against violations and injustices within the municipality. As a Union, we are resolute in our stance that we will not allow municipal resources and infrastructure to be misused for personal political gain.
As SAMWU, we call for the immediate reversal of these illegal and procedurally flawed suspensions. We reject and condemn the victimisation and silencing of Shopstewards who are acting in the best interest of workers and communities. We demand Mathjabeng Local Municipality to promptly implements the recommended remedies put forth by the Health and Safety Department to ensure full compliance with OSHA.
Furthermore, we urge the ANC in the province to take decisive action regarding their deployee who has turned the municipality into a battleground for his personal political ambitions. The ANC’s silence in the face of their deployee’s authoritarian governance marked by terror and victimization of workers is unacceptable. As “a leader of society”, the ANC has a fundamental obligation to ensure that their deployees do not misuse municipal resources as weapons but rather focus on delivering the much-needed public services for the residents of Welkom, Virginia, Odendaalsrus, and Allanridge.
Issued by SAMWU Secretariat
(076 580 4029)
Deputy General Secretary
(082 526 5224)
National Media Officer
(076 795 8670)