GEORGE NEWS - Refuse collection and sewerage-related services in George have been badly affected as essential municipal workers continue to strike. The strike started last week Thursday and was still in effect yesterday afternoon, Wednesday 17 June.
Meanwhile residents have to cope with black bags piling up and stinking sewage due to blocked pipes. Refuse collection ground to a halt two weeks ago when a municipal worker in the cleaning section tested positive for Covid-19.
The refuse collection services were due to resume on Monday, but the strike quickly put an end to that.
On Tuesday, a resident of Sardien Street in Maraiskamp had sewage flowing into her home, due to a blockage higher up in the street. George Councillor Theresa Fortuin, said she phoned several senior officials to report the problem, but to no avail. "We received notice of the strike, and that was that," she said.
George Municipality confirmed yesterday that temporary contractors have been appointed to address the most urgent sewerage problems such as those at Maraiskamp.
Covid-19 compensation demanded
Asked about the reason for the strike, municipal spokesperson Chantel Edwards-Klose said George Municipality does not comment on internal matters. But, the Provincial Secretary of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), John Mcanjana, was more forthcoming with information and told George Herald the "sit-in" relates to a Covid-19 compensation for essential workers and administrative support staff.
"The SALGBC (South African Local Government Bargaining Council) has sent a circular that stipulates employers and the unions must engage at local level to find middle ground on how much compensation workers should receive," said Mcanjana.
How will 'danger pay' help?
Asked how a type of danger pay would protect workers from the virus, Mcanjana said Covid-19 comes with an extra financial burden. "You need immune boosters, for instance. They don't belong to any medical aid because of their low salaries. You are actually putting your life in danger by working under these conditions. Monetary compensation would give them a much needed boost to fulfil their duties. The municipality wants workers to return to work before we discuss matters, but we want to sort this out first. Workers want an answer from management. This is not a strike, this is just a sit-in."
'Municipality ignoring us'
He said that both unions, Samwu and Imatu, have submitted joint proposals for consideration by Council. "George Municipality has blatantly ignored our proposals without any feedback. Two of our members have passed on due to this brutal pandemic and workers are panicking. There are daily infections and the employer is not bothering to give workers a hearing, but rather choose to further frustrate them.
"They are forcing instructions on workers to proceed working while they fear for their lives."
According to Mcanjana the workers who lost the fight against Covid-19 were above the age of 60 and, according to the Health and Safety Regulations, should not have been working. "We have made two attempts to meet with the MM [Trevor Botha] to find an amicable solution to the impasse. They are refusing to meet with us, while the unions want to try and mitigate the conflict and panic," said Mcanjana.
Strike dismays municipality
In a notice on Monday, the municipality alerted the public to the fact that certain sewerage services, as well as refuse collection, would be affected by the strike. The strike was noted with "dismay and concern".
By Wednesday the situation remained the same, with essential workers for refuse collection and sanitation continuing an "unprotected strike", according to Edwards-Klose. "[They] are currently in discussions with their unions. Management continues to liaise with the unions to resolve the matter," she said. "The Community Services directorate is again reviewing alternative service providers to assist with the removal of refuse.
"We apologise for the inconvenience and ask for the public's patience while the matter is addressed internally and all efforts are being made to resume services. Updates will be issued as soon as available."
Blue and green bag removal continues as usual.
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