Strike by municipal staff may hit services

Prudence Mini

NELSON Mandela Bay residents could be without vital services this week as several workers who handle the city’s accounts have downed tools, refusing to work until a litany of demands have been met.

Workers and management spent most of yesterday negotiating behind closed doors in a bid to resolve the stand-off.

If the talks fail and the workers do not go back to work, residents would not be able to pay accounts, have queries answered or report service problems at the Mfanasekhaya Gqobose building.

Workers began a sit-in at the building yesterday, demanding three senior officials be fired.

While residents can pay accounts through retail outlets, the metro cannot afford disruptions to its financial operations.

The council made provision for only one month’s capital reserves when passing the city’s budget in June.

This means the municipality has to maintain a 95% collection rate or plunge into financial crisis. Failure by residents to pay their bills on time could leave the municipality with little with which to operate efficiently.

The municipality’s acting chief financial officer, Selwyn Thys, urged residents to pay their accounts at other payment centres such as the post office and banks. The municipality also had an online facility.

Yesterday morning residents were greeted by vacant counters at the metro offices.

The strikers deal with rates, metered services, debtor management and inquiries, work as cashiers, in the call centre and at the councillors’ help desk, and help provide assistance to the poor.

Thandile Kona, who represented the workers, said management had ignored their needs. “We have given them seven days to resolve issues; we won’t go back to work until then.”

Kona said they would hand over a memorandum of demands to Thys.

Acting communications director Marthie Nel said yesterday negotiations between management and the workers were ongoing. She refused to comment further.

In the memorandum, workers declare they have no confidence in assistant director Madeline Lawrence, section head of data management Norman Brown, and revenue management and customer care executive director Mbuzeli Nogqala.

The workers claim black and coloured staff work at front counters only, and training opportunities are, in many cases, offered to white or coloured staff.

“We firmly believe that the budget and treasury directorate urgently needs a total overhaul and [should] be transformed so as to reflect the demographics of our municipality,” the memorandum states.

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