Municipal Scrooge to steal workers’ Christmas
Cash-strapped council says it is forced to axe almost half of its workforce by end of January
For hundreds of municipal workers in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands there will be little cheer during the festive season as their jobs hang in the balance.
This comes after attempts by the KZN cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube to reverse the fortunes of the bankrupt Inkosi Langalibalele municipality in the KZN Midlands.
The consequences are dire for the employees.
Less than a year after the ailing municipality was placed under administration, it has informed unions and its workers that it will be retrenching 41% of its workforce by the end of January 2019.
But the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) has vowed to challenge the retrenchments, which were announced shortly after the recent Presidential Job Summit which, among other things, committed itself to massive job creation and defending existing jobs.
The union is also blaming the amalgamation of two municipalities for the retrenchments.
The Inkosi Langalibalele municipality was formed in August 2016 after the amalgamation of the Imbabazane and Umtshezi municipalities, and covers towns such as Estcourt and Weenen.
But it was beset by a litany of problems during its first year of existence, mostly emanating from it being bankrupt. This resulted in huge problems related to service delivery, with some residents threatening litigation.
Irregular expenditure at the municipality amounted to R260.4m during the 2016/17 financial year while unauthorised expenditure grew to R42.1m and fruitless and wasteful expenditure increased to R31.6m.
This dire financial situation forced Dube-Ncube to place the municipality under administration in January and Thandolwethu Manda, a local government expert, was appointed as the administrator tasked with turning around its fortunes.
On Tuesday Samwu said it had received a Section 189A notice from the municipality informing it of its intention to retrench 41% of the workforce by the end of January, but the union was critical that the retrenchments had been announced after the recent job summit.
“It is very sickening that the employer has made their intentions known just a few weeks after the conclusion of the Presidential Job Summit where a commitment was signed that there would be a moratorium on retrenchments.”
In its application to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration the municipality claimed it was in a dire financial state which necessitated the reduction of costs to re-establish service delivery. The municipality also claimed that its liquidity challenges were a result of salary disparities after the merger, which increased its wage bill.
But the union disputed this, saying it was not true “because the decision to merge the Imbabazane and Umtshezi local municipalities was ill-conceived and done in haste without the consultation of workers”.
This had resulted in workers in the new municipality receiving different salaries for doing the same job.
Samwu provincial secretary Jaycee Ncanana said they were convinced the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs had “deliberately allowed” the municipality to fail.
“The municipality has been placed under administration by the department but instead of turning it around it is now being run aground,” said Ncanana.
He said it was the department that had instructed the municipality to reverse salary increments given to workers in addressing the salary disparities and recoup this money from the workers.
Ncanana said the department should have known that there was no way that this would happen since it would be illegal in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
The union has called for national cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Zweli Mkize to send a team to the municipality to “salvage whatever is left of the municipality before it is too late”.
“Despite the fact that the municipality claims to be in dire financial pressure, it still has a security contract worth R2.3m in place while millions more are wasted as a result of outsourcing,” charged Samwu.
The union said it believed the ailing municipality could still be salvaged if all outsourcing work, including security, was terminated and all these services were done in-house by municipal workers. “We will therefore be challenging the attempts by the municipality to retrench these workers. Community members should also take a stand against this decision as it will not only affect service delivery but also increase the levels of unemployment in the community,” said the union.
Inkosi Langalibalele municipal manager Danny Mkhize said: “When we compared ourselves to other municipalities similar in size, we found that many of them are around 350 employees in terms of the workforce. We said our wish was to be around that figure, but as you know you only reach Section 189 after talks.”
The municipality currently has more than 500 workers, he added.
He said the union had asked for a meeting with the municipality on Wednesday to discuss the retrenchments. The municipality proposed that the union should present alternatives to the retrenchments.
“This is not a final say but on our side we’re saying this is the start of the negotiations to find out what we can look at. From our side there is a list of things that we have done to cut down on spending tremendously. So we are saying even after having done those things, the cost of the past records and what we found in the municipality, the municipality is still not on its feet, although there are signs,” he said.
Asked if the municipality was still able to pay workers, Mkhize said: “Yes, after cutting a lot of spending. At least we still able to pay them. In the past one could not sleep when we had to pay workers. But we’re saying if your salary bill is too high above the norm to such an extent that as a municipality we’re failing to have money for service delivery which is not right because our core business is service delivery.”