THOUSANDS of striking municipal workers in Nelson Mandela Bay dumped rubbish across streets and trashed flower-beds during the first day of their strike yesterday.
And a revised national wage increase offer of 13% failed to end the strike, which is set to continue until at least tomorrow.
Marches by striking workers were the order of the day countrywide. Police kept a watchful eye as protesters emptied refuse bins in the streets and harassed hawkers, but water cannons and rubber bullets were used to control crowds in several cities.
In Port Elizabeth, 2500 to 3000 workers joined a march which started at the corner of First Avenue and Ring Road, Newton Park, just after 11am.
The workers, watched closely by a heavy police contingent, continued down Cape Road, turning into Rink Street and continuing down Western Road before arriving at City Hall just after 1pm.
Angry workers left a huge mess behind them, with some emptying refuse bins into the streets and kicking flowers planted along Cape Road and in Whites Road, Central.
Many were carrying bright SACP banners, blowing vuvuzelas, chanting and wearing bright red union T-shirts.
After the march, some speakers took to a makeshift podium and addressed the crowd before a memorandum of their demands was given to a South African Local Government Association (Salga) representative and councillor Anne-Marie van Jaarsveld. Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers‘ Union members – on strike countrywide since last week – joined municipal workers in yesterday‘s march.
Despite the massive turnout of thousands of people, essential services in Nelson Mandela Bay still continued. Health, traffic, electricity and fire department workers did not join the march.
SA Municipal Workers‘ Union (Samwu) president Petrus Mashishi told the strikers: “We are doing what unions are meant to do. Unions are there to keep the workers happy, not to keep politicians happy.”
He said several important issues had to be addressed before workers were satisfied, including housing subsidies and the filling of vacant posts. “The workers will decide when the strike will be over,” he told The Herald.
“We do not know what decision they will take. We will have meetings (today) as well, so the strike will probably continue.” Mashishi said he had received updates on the action across the country and was happy everything was relatively peaceful.
Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) regional chairman Marius Mattheus said workers who took part in yesterday‘s strike should be proud because everyone was standing together as one unit. “We want people to know that it is not just about the money,” he said.
“There are many other grievances as well. “In some places in the Eastern Cape, workers earn as little as R2000 a month. Service delivery is null and void. “We just want the people of South Africa to make a decent living.
“Everyone in the fire, electricity and traffic departments and some health workers all went to work. There was no disruption of these services.” Samwu is demanding a 15% wage increase or R2500, whichever is greater.
It also wants a minimum wage of R5000 a month, while Imatu wants a 13% raise and a minimum monthly wage of R4020.
Salga called on unions last night to return to the negotiating table, saying it had already “significantly” upped its wage offer from 10,5% to 13%. “Salga believes that negotiations are the most preferred vehicle to nurture industrial action, since this is a critical prerequisite for quality service delivery and development,” said executive director Mzwanele Yawa. But Samwu said the strike would continue until at least tomorrow.
“We are in the process of getting mandates from our members across the country on a new offer, which was the outcome of protracted negotiations between the parties over the weekend,” the union said.
“These discussions will continue until tomorrow, when a national executive committee will convene to assess the strike and determine a way forward.” Bay municipal spokesman Luncedo Njezula said there had been no major disruptions and crowds had dispersed from City Hall peacefully. “Our services were not at full strength, but that was expected.
“However, essential services like fire and traffic were all still at work. We received some reports that workers were intimidated, but we cannot verify those (yet).” Njezula could not give a percentage of municipal workers who were on strike until he had received attendance registers from the city‘s various directorates. Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers‘ Union regional secretary Sakhiwo Zak said there had been almost a 100% turnout of its Bay members.
“Our strike is not just about the wages,” he said.
“It is also about decent working conditions for everyone. We also need six-month maternity leave for our members. We need time to build future leadership.”
MESSING IT UP... Striking municipal workers in Port Alfred turned the coastal town‘s central business district into a virtual landfill during a protest march yesterday.