Municipal workers need their wage increase

Mikel Kumalo, regional secretary, South African Municipality Workers’ Union (SAMWU)

Samwu Cape Metro Region is disgusted with the latest move by the City of Cape Town’s application for an exemption from the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) on the recently signed multi-year wage increase agreement, between labour and South African local government authorities.

This comes after the unions, Samwu included, agreed with the local government employers for a mere 3.5% wage increase, well below the inflation rate which is expected to peak at 4.5%.

Forever claiming to be one of the best run municipalities in South Africa, always bragging about adhering to the best fiscal responsibility and taking good care of its finances and managing a strong positive bank balance, we find it rather uncanny that the City did not plan for a wage increase.

This especially during this time of a pandemic that is hitting everybody hard, especially the City’s employees.

This comes not only as a shock to us but is clearly a declaration of war against Cape Town municipal workers and the working class, who are suffering under escalating high prices, increased municipal rates, rent and exorbitant water charges.

Wanting to abscond from implementing a nationally agreed wage increase makes a mockery of the wage-negotiation process and would completely render the bargaining process obsolete if parties can just afterwards request an exemption.

The City of Cape Town is trying to plead poverty when it comes to paying its workers proper and decent salaries, especially those on the lower rungs, but it is not shy to pay extremely high salaries to those in executive positions, contracting expensive lawyers, consultants, contractors and labour brokers.

We call on the SALGBC not to heed City’s request for an exemption and to make them aware that they can afford to pay the increase.

We will not take this lying down and will fight to the end to defend the rights of our members for a living wage and for the implementation of wage increases agreed to at the SALGBC.

Ian Neilson, deputy mayor, responds: Our decision to oppose the wage agreement by asking to be excluded from having to implement the increases has not been taken lightly.

The pressures on City staff and residents and businesses have been front of mind, but we strongly believe this is not the right time in South Africa to afford increases to government employees.

It is not fair to our residents, many of whom are struggling due to Covid-19 and the national lockdown.

Salary and wages comprise one third of the City’s costs and have a direct impact on rates and tariffs. The state of the national economy is dire. Resources have been all but depleted over the years.

We have already seen large national-government budget cuts on important service-delivery imperatives, such as on human settlements, which are having a ripple effect on local governments.

We maintain wage increases at this time are unfair and unaffordable to our residents.

Our residents cannot afford to pay more in the current economic climate, and it is unfair for government workers to receive wage increases when many people have had reductions to their income.

The City’s mayoral committee therefore mandated the City to approach the SALGBC for an exemption from the new salary-and-wage collective agreement for local government.

We’ve maintained the City does not have an allocated budget for salary increases, and the City has reduced staff-related costs by some R460 million in the current financial year.

Senior, managerial and executive-level staff increases have not been awarded for two consecutive years already in an effort to reduce costs, maintain service delivery and reduce the impact on customers.

Should the City be forced to provide salary increases this year, posts will have to be cut to compensate for the cost, which will have an impact on service-delivery to residents.