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Union official ‘chased away’

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The workers prevented security and police from removing him from the premises where the meeting was convened.

Picture: James Mahlokwane

SOUTH African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) provincial secretary, Benjamin Mdhluli, said that council security and police officers tried to physically remove him from the Sol Plaatje municipal workshop after he arrived for a union meeting at the council yard in Fabricia to listen to grievances from staff at the sanitation department yesterday morning.

Workers said that vacancies at sanitation services had resulted in a critical shortage of staff.

“Following the death of five workers, who drowned in rising sludge at the Homevale Waste Water Treatment plant in 2016, the provision of personal protective equipment, safety precautions and our working conditions have not improved. There are vacancies, dating back to the tragedy, that were never filled … We have to work in manholes, sumps, unblock drains and we are only provided with gloves and dust masks that are not adequate to protect us. Many of us are suffering from ill health.”

Mdhluli stated that the workers prevented security and police from removing him from the premises where the meeting was convened.

He said that this was in contravention of an agreement that was reached, which permitted Samwu to hold union meetings at municipal premises during working hours.

“No reasons were provided as to why the meeting should not proceed as it was approved by the foreman and was called by Samwu shop stewards. I came to assist the workers as the highest office holder in the Province.”

Mdhluli said that the workers’ grievances included a lack of personal, protective equipment, unfulfilled danger allowances, lack of salary promotions and other complaints that have not been resolved for many years.

There were also further complaints of expelled union members who are still being permitted to hold meetings in the name of Samwu.

“Genuine Samwu representatives were excluded from sitting in on the interviews that are being held for vacancies in the electrical department, although the expelled union members were involved in the shortlisting of candidates. We distance ourselves from these appointments.” Mdhluli stated.

Municipal spokesperson Sello Matsie explained that the meeting was held at the council yard without obtaining permission.

“There is also a limited number of union meetings that are permitted to convene each month. Grievances should be raised by the workers through their supervisors. A meeting did take place yesterday, where labour matters pertaining to their working environments were discussed.”

Matsie added that they had safety risk management plans in place. “We spend thousands of rand on safety equipment. However, workers often fail to adhere to the use of safety equipment.”