Union throws workers under the bus as City announces lawsuit

Durban's acting economic development and planning deputy city manager, Musa Mbhele, laid out the bold plans. File picture: Vivian Attwood

Durban's acting economic development and planning deputy city manager, Musa Mbhele, laid out the bold plans. File picture: Vivian Attwood

Published Mar 18, 2024


Durban — Representatives of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) have seemingly thrown their members under the bus as the eThekwini Municipality announces legal action.

The wildcat strike became violent and has led to a worker being killed and others injured, apart from shutting down service delivery and turning Durban into a place of absolute squalor.

Now, three weeks later, the union has distanced itself from the protests, saying workers acted of their own accord. It also claimed that the strike had turned violent because it might have been infiltrated by non-union members or City employees.

Since February 27, scores of workers associated with Samwu went berserk after the union told them that the City had not approved the issue of benchmarking their salaries in line with other metros.

During their march from the Curries Fountain Stadium to the City Hall on the same day, they damaged property and used council vehicles to disrupt traffic, overturned waste bins, scattered rubbish and dumped rubble on the N2 to block traffic.

As a result, the City said it was suing Samwu for the damages incurred during the strike that tossed the municipality into disarray.

The City was still trying to recover from the disruption of service delivery, which deprived residents of water and electricity supply because infrastructure had been damaged. Just yesterday, metro police were still seen escorting Durban Solid Waste trucks transporting rubbish to landfill sites.

Scores of striking workers have been expelled and suspended while others are currently facing criminal charges.

In a report, which was tabled before the council on Tuesday, city manager Musa Mbhele said the City was in the process of instituting a lawsuit for the vandalism committed during the strike.

“This claim is against the union under whose banner the unprotected strike was undertaken,” read the report.

City spokesperson Gugu Sisilana did not respond when asked when the legal papers would be filed.

On Wednesday, Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda told the media that 81 employees were suspended and their four-day disciplinary hearing would be completed on Monday. He said 1 891 others had been given notices of misconduct and 88 employees had been dismissed.

Mbhele said the main cause of the strike was the issue of the wage curve and categorisation from category eight to 10, which was the “competency of the national bargaining processes and the relevant structure at the national level is seized with it”.

Samwu secretary Xolani Dube told the Sunday Tribune that on hearing that the salary issue had not been resolved in their favour, workers disrupted the meeting.

“It became chaotic as people said the employer was abusing them as they had been waiting for years for this to be concluded,” he said.

As it failed to control the situation, Dube said the leadership pleaded with the council to resolve the issue of salaries.

“We cannot run away from the fact that this strike was infiltrated by other people because it was clear that it was no longer for the workers,” he said.

Dube justified the workers’ anger, saying discussions over benchmarking of the salaries had been dragging on for too many years.

“This thing has been discussed for more than 10 years. In September last year, we had a very organised march to the municipality to deliver a petition on the issue of the category 10.

“The municipality responded in a manner that does not assist. Then we made a follow-up in November. Then on February 27, workers said they were tired of this thing and started protesting and we could not do anything at the time because it became chaotic,” said Dube.

He said even though the union would not take responsibility for the strike it did not initiate, it would still represent workers who had been fired and those facing disciplinary action.

“If our members are facing something, Samwu has a duty to defend members.

“A worker cannot pay R80 every month to the union and the union not defend him,” he said.

On Monday, general secretary Dumisane Magagula wrote a letter asking members to observe the court interdict and the City’s instruction to return to work.

“Any member who is served with such a letter should report to shop stewards for the union to respond and to ensure representation,” read the letter.

Sunday Tribune