Drastic move follows years of personnel shortages and battles over shift allowance
An ongoing wage dispute and chronic understaffing at Bayworld resulted in the complex being shut last weekend, with more closures on the cards while Bayworld and officials in Bhisho discuss a way forward.
Consisting of the oceanarium, snake park and museum, Bayworld has 58 employees, including curators, grounds staff, general assistants and administrative staff.
Issues including non-payment of shift allowances for weekend work have caused employees to close the beachfront attraction to the public at weekends.
Admitting that the weekend closure was due to staff shortages, Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture spokesman Andile Nduna said closures had a huge impact on the museum’s cash flow.
On average, Bayworld re- ceived between 50 and 60 visitors over a weekend, depending on the season.
Of the 58 permanent staff members at Bayworld, only 10 worked weekends shifts Nduna said.
“Although we have 58 employees at Bayworld, more positions are being filled. This temporary weekend closure has come about due to staff shor tages,” he said.
According to a Bayworld em- ployee, who asked to remain anonymous, a chronic staff shortage and the department no longer paying shift allowances led senior staff members to shut the facility over weekends.
“The staff instituted the closure [over weekends] due to issues of understaffing and non- payment of shift allowances.
“The department [of sports, recreation, arts and culture] has been aware of these issues for the past five years.
“General assistant workers and grounds staff were previ- ously paid a shift allowance and senior staff would receive time off for working extra hours, but then the department stopped payment and senior staff had to fill in on weekends, he said.
Senior staff were contracted to work one weekend a month but were now forced to work two weekends with no extra remuneration or general assistance, he said.
He said staff had had enough of empty promises from the department and were under huge pressure to perform over and above what they were contracted to do.
“Service delivery [at Bayworld] is severely impacted in the sense of what we can offer through exhibits and installations.”
Senior staff members were still feeding and attending to the animals over weekends, he said.
“We are, at the moment, in negotiations with the department and have given it various options to consider.”
Approached for comment on the impact the closure would have on tourism, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism spokeswoman Reuann Smith said it was not their mandate to comment on the issue, and referred all queries to the department.
Tour guide Tony Neverling said he found the weekend closures tragic.
“We need these attractions to bring people in, and the off spin of that would bring in more revenue for them [Bayworld] which in turn could help with the financial concerns of the facility,” he said.
Education expert Professor Susan van Rensburg said the weekend closure of Bayworld was a major concern.
“Somebody somewhere needs to make a plan. Weekends are the only time people can really go there but now it is closed.
“Visiting a museum is a family event [during which] museums offer cultural education.”
Nduna said discussions with disgruntled Bayworld staff members were under way to facilitate its reopening.
Four vacancies had already been filled, with one pending and a further eight still to be advertised, he said.
The staff member said that until more staff had been employed and shift allowances reinstated, the complex would remain closed at weekends.