We need our salaries, not food parcels, waste workers plead

Waste workers from a contractor to the Ekurhuleni council that have gone on strike after not receiving their salaries in Palm Ridge, 31 March 2020. Picture: Neil McCartney

Ekurhuleni city ‘condemns in the strongest possible terms the withholding of salaries by any service provider contracted to the city in exchange for food parcels, if the allegation are true’.

Labouring under the worst conditions and faced with destitution, 150 waste removal workers employed by a waste removal contractor appointed by the City of Ekurhuleni this week defied lockdown regulations by staging a protest in Palm Ridge over unpaid salaries.

The directors of the contractor, Nokeng Gundo, said they had not yet been paid by the city which prevented the transfer of money into staffers’ bank accounts.

“We did not mean to gather in this way to disobey the lockdown regulations, but we had no choice.

“Our families are suffering financially because we have not been paid our salaries since 25 March.

“We are being given excuses daily, while we are expected to report for work,” said one employee, speaking on condition of anonymity for “fear of reprisals”.

Another said: “It is unacceptable that we are being given food parcels instead of being paid our salaries.

“In waste collection, we work under very hazardous conditions, especially now that there is the spread of the coronavirus.

“Nokeng Gundo Waste Management keeps on telling us that the company is unable to pay us yet, because they have not been paid by the City of Ekurhuleni.

“Our work is classified as an essential service in terms of the national disaster regulations, but it is also a thankless job.”

Palm Ridge, Thokoza and Eden Park are among areas serviced by the waste collection employees in Ekurhuleni.

Another employee said: “We work overtime, without ablution facilities to wash and change clothes.

“We work without dust masks and other protective clothing.

“There is no medical aid, funeral cover, increase in salaries or a 13th cheque,” said a worker. “We daily inhale a strong stench from the waste and most of us are quite sick.”

The Citizen has previously revealed how waste workers’ rights were being violated. They work in hazardous conditions for long hours without benefits, or a regular supply of protective clothing.

Workers have complained their health has been affected by coming into contact with poisonous and dangerous substances. Because they are not provided with quality healthcare, many employees have developed sicknesses ranging from abnormal lung functioning and poor vision to respiratory failure.

Ekurhuleni spokesperson Themba Gadebe said the city had “a legal, contractual agreement with Nokeng and has been meeting its legal obligations to the contractor and therefore cannot comment on the labour affairs of Nokeng”.

He added: “The city condemns in the strongest possible terms the withholding of salaries by any service provider contracted to the city in exchange for food parcels, if the allegation are true.

“This goes against acceptable labour practice.”

Pressed for comment on why workers’ salaries had not been paid, Nokeng Gundo Waste Management director Colin Tshivhase blamed the City of Ekurhuleni for payment delays.

“The City of Ekurhuleni has not paid us yet.

“From Friday, we were aware that the invoices had not been processed by Ekurhuleni.

“Everyone has not been paid, hence we bought food hampers for employees.”

While Tshivhase confirmed that the company had an overdraft facility to pay employees when the City of Ekurhuleni’s payments were delayed, he could not say why no contingency plan had been invoked to tap into the overdraft to alleviate the plight of employees.

“Should this go on, we will have to make use of the facility,” he said.

brians@citizen.co.za

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