Harare Council Workers Demand 4 Months’ Salary Arrears

Above and below: Striking Shoprite workers in Namibia who won a 15% wage increase in 2015 are now being sued by the company for loss of sales. South Africa’s NUMSA union has called for a boycott of the Shoprite chain
Above and below: Striking Shoprite workers in Namibia who won a 15% wage increase in 2015 are now being sued by the company for loss of sales. South Africa’s NUMSA union has called for a boycott of the Shoprite chain

THOUSANDS of Zimbabwe capital Harare City Council (HCC) workers have threatened to go on strike to force their employer to settle salary arrears stretching back four months. They claim the HCC last paid them in March.

The impending strike comes as outgoing Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni warned the local authority to review high salaries paid to its executives which he said was impacting on delivering effective service delivery. Harare Municipal Workers Union lawyers, Joel Mambara and Associates, said: ‘The situation is so desperate that the employees are agitating for collective job action, go slow or any other action that would compel the city to pay the salary arrears.

‘The workers’ leaders have been fighting very hard to avoid such action. ‘Harare is the window to the nation and any disruption of services would be adverse to the trajectory the New Dispensation has taken. ‘Conversely, any non-payment of wages results in a disgruntled workforce that has a real potential to damage the country’s reputation, and showcasing a Zimbabwe and a capital city that has no adequate services and that is not ready to house all the potential investment.’ So desperate is the situation that the affected HCC workers have asked government to intervene as ‘it had done’ in previous situations.

In his last press conference, outgoing Harari mayor Manyenyeni said that since 2013, when the government approved the hefty salaries to council executives, the local authority had been collecting rates to pay employees only. Through their lawyers, J Mambara and Associates, the workers, under the Harare Municipal Workers Union, last week wrote to Harare Metropolitan minister, Miriam Chikukwa complaining over their unpaid salaries.

The City Council has blamed the salary backlog on low revenue inflows. The workers demanded central government provide a $20 million bailout to the council so that it could meet its obligations or else they would take industrial action. ‘A sum of $20 million will go a long way in mitigating this perilous situation. The city’s treasury department is in a position to confirm that such a sum can be redeemed in three months,’ their lawyers’ wrote. Harare is owed over $700 million in unpaid rates and water charges by residents, various government departments and other local authorities such as Chitungwiza, Norton, Ruwa and the Epworth Local Board.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has called on the ‘working class majority’ of South Africans to boycott retail giant Shoprite. NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim said last Friday: ‘We urge all our members‚ progressive and middle class individuals‚ and all progressive communities in the country and all unions in the retail sector the working class in general, to stand with our comrades in Namibia and to support this campaign against Shoprite.’

The Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (MANWU) called on working class Namibians last Wednesday to join them in solidarity to demand the withdrawal of a court case it believes is aimed to ‘sue the dismissed workers’. MANWU demanded last Thursday, in the neighbouring country’s capital Windhoek‚ that Shoprite withdraw its civil case and disciplinary charges against 98 workers.

The Namibian Sun reported that Shoprite was given three days to withdraw its lawsuit against the workers following their strike in 2015.

It also reports that Shoprite claimed in their summons, filed at the Windhoek High Court, that it had to close its shops on July 28 2015 and lost N$288‚000 (R286‚200). NUMSA’s Jim said Shoprite in Namibia was suing these workers for ‘N$4.5 million (the equivalent of R4.5 million) for embarking on a strike for improved conditions and a 20% salary increase in 2015’. Shoprite Namibia has since withdrawn the summons ‘in the interest of all parties’.

The company said last Friday: ‘The summons followed a cost order issued by the High Court of Namibia in November 2015 in favour of Shoprite against the group of employees‚ for loss of sales‚ legal costs and damages incurred as a result of unlawful strike action in December 2014 and July 2015.’ It added: ‘The internal disciplinary hearings against these employees are continuing and a final outcome is expected in the next few weeks.’

• In South Africa, the ongoing wage dispute between power utility Eskom and trade unions could be resolved soon, but it all depends on whether the two major unions – the NUMSA and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – receive mandates from their members to sign the latest wage proposal. Both NUMSA and NUM said they were seriously considering the proposal facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), but both declined to divulge the details of the offer.

NUMSA said last Friday it will only report back to Eskom this week, saying it is up to their members whether to accept accept the latest wage offer or not. However, trade union Solidarity said it will do everything in its power to stabilise the power grid after accepting the 7.5% hike. Wage negotiations have continued for several weeks now, with members from NUMSA and NUM still unhappy about bonuses for this year.

NUMSA spokesman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the union is currently considering the proposal.

He said: ‘We’ve arranged different meetings at different plants all over the country over the next few days to discuss the proposal in detail with our members. ‘We will be meeting with Eskom again on Wednesday with the response.’

Last week the three unions held talks with the Eskom management team under CCMA arbitration services auspices.

‘The purpose of the meeting was to finalise this round of wage talks, with the view to settling the dispute. Eskom have a made a proposal which we have sent to our members for them to consider,’ NUMSA general secretary Jim said. However, he declined to share the details of the offer with the media ‘because we want to give our members space to make up their own minds on whether to accept or reject the offer.’

Jim added: ‘If our members are happy with the latest proposal, then we can sign the agreement. We have arranged general meetings at different plants all over the country over the next few days to discuss the proposal in detail with our members.’ NUM chief negotiator at Eskom Helen Diatile said it was important that Eskom should accede to the deal breaker the union proposed including the payment of bonuses that were due in early July. Eskom had refused to pay bonuses claiming the company made no profit due to ‘the workers’ failure to honour their compact with the shareholders.’

But the NUM is adamant the bonus payment is a deal breaker.

It said: ‘Without a bonus, there will be no agreement as per our members’ mandate.

‘As the NUM, we demand that Eskom pay the hard working workers who averted load shedding their bonuses. As it is reflected in the performance scoresheet, workers performed exceptionally well.’