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Cash crisis at Sol

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“The union has informed the Sol Plaatje Municipality that the entire workforce will be at the civic centre today to raise their concerns.”

THE SITUATION at the Sol Plaatje Municipality has imploded with staff members set to descend on the cash-strapped civic centre today while councillors on Friday also demanded the removal of the institution’s top executive.

The South African Municipal Workers Union’s local secretary, Nomathamsanqa Bando, said on Friday that more than 1 200 union members employed at the municipality would gather at the civic centre today following a notice that the municipality would only pay its employees on Friday, January 31 due to “serious cash flow challenges”.

According to the union, it was not consulted about the delay in salary payments. “The union has informed the Sol Plaatje Municipality that the entire workforce will be at the civic centre today to raise their concerns.”

Meanwhile sources within the municipality have stated that the institution currently does not have sufficient funds to pay its wage bill.

“Employees are moaning about the date that they are getting paid, when in reality there might not be sufficient funds to pay salaries in full this month. At this stage, our reserves will only cover about half the total wage bill,” the source stated.

Bando pointed out on Friday that the policy of the municipality was to pay on the last Friday of the month. “In the past, if the last Friday fell at the end of the month, staff were paid the Friday before. Now, however, we have been given notice that salaries will only be paid on January 31.”

The union has lashed out at the municipality for not following the necessary consultation processes in terms of the Bargaining Agreement.

A memorandum was sent out on December 13 last year by the acting municipal manager, Thami Mabija, that the Executive Management Team had met on December 6 and made a decision to limit overtime to 30 hours for the month of December.

“Currently the cash flow for the month of December is below the expected expenditure outflow,” the memorandum from Mabija stated.

According to Samwu, this decision was never taken to the union for consultation and to get a mandate from its members.

“In terms of the collective agreement, the overtime should be 15 hours a week, or 60 hours a month,” Bando stated.

In a follow-up memorandum, issued on December 24, the acting municipal manager stated that it had come to his attention that the decision to curtail overtime to 30 hours a month had not been communicated with all relevant employees and no arrangements had been made to stay within the specified 30 hours for the month.

“As a result employees worked more than 30 hours overtime and were therefore negatively affected by the blanket implementation of the decision to limit overtime to 30 hours a month.

“So, for November and December 2019, overtime worked above the 30 hours limit will be paid out when the cash flow improves and permits as such,” the memorandum, signed by Mabija, stated.

However, Samwu pointed out on Friday that no indication was given when the outstanding overtime would be paid out.

“The acting municipal manager and the acting CFO were appointed to assist the municipality but they have not done so and instead they take decisions that are just communicated to us, instead of consulting with the union and giving us an opportunity to go back to our members and obtain a mandate from them.”

Bando added that at a recent general meeting of the union, members had demanded that their overtime be paid this Friday, but the management of the municipality had indicated that this was not possible.

“The municipality cannot say that it does not have money. At both the waterworks section, as well as at the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works there are two people who have been appointed in exactly the same positions. We are not talking about blue-collar workers – these are people who earn big salaries. This is wasteful expenditure. There is lots of double-parking at the municipality, as well as irregular appointments and failure to abide by the institution’s recruitment policy.

“The acting municipal manager and CFO are just putting this municipality more and more in the red instead of helping it out of the current situation. “As Samwu we will not allow our members to be exploited by the municipality.”

The union has also lashed out at comments that some workers in the waterworks section have been on strike.

“When a team goes out to attend to pipe bursts, there should be three general workers, one water service hand and one pipe fitter. However, there are only three pipe fitters out of more than 60 employees in this section. As a result, this work is being done by general workers but they are not getting paid for this.

“A decision was, therefore, taken in December that general workers would no longer do the work if they are not getting paid for it. They are capacitated, they know how to do the job, but according to the municipality they are general workers and get paid as such.”

Municipal spokesperson Sello Matsie said on Friday that it was the municipality’s policy to pay salaries on the last Friday of the month. “The last Friday of this month is January 31 so there is nothing unusual about salaries being paid on this day.”

Matsie confirmed that the municipality was facing serious cash flow challenges. “All employees need to start working towards a municipality that is self-sufficient and able to grow its resources.”

He added that the local authority was aggressively pursuing those who owed it money, whether it was private households, businesses or government departments. “Even employees who owe the municipality money will have these outstanding amounts deducted from their salaries. It cannot be that people can afford DSTV and cars but do not pay their municipal accounts.”