Rubbish piles up in George as workers continue to strike

Refuse collection ground to a halt two weeks ago when a municipal worker in the cleaning section tested positive for Covid-19. 

Refuse collection and sewage-related services in George, Western Cape have been badly affected as essential municipal workers continue to strike over Covid-19 related compensation.

The strike started last Thursday and was still in effect yesterday afternoon, Wednesday 17 June.

Meanwhile residents have to cope with black bags piling up and stinking sewage due to blocked pipes. Refuse collection ground to a halt two weeks ago when a municipal worker in the cleaning section tested positive for Covid-19.

On Tuesday, a resident of Sardien Street in Maraiskamp had sewage flowing into her home, due to a blockage higher up in the street. George Councillor Theresa Fortuin, said she phoned several senior officials to report the problem, but to no avail.

“We received notice of the strike, and that was that,” she said.

George Municipality confirmed yesterday that temporary contractors have been appointed to address the most urgent sewerage problems such as those at Maraiskamp.

Asked about the reason for the strike, municipal spokesperson Chantel Edwards-Klose said George Municipality does not comment on internal matters. But, the Provincial Secretary of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), John Mcanjana, was more forthcoming with information and told George Herald the “sit-in” relates to Covid-19 compensation for essential workers and administrative support staff.

Asked how a type of danger pay would protect workers from the virus, Mcanjana said Covid-19 comes with an extra financial burden.

“You need immune boosters, for instance. They don’t belong to any medical aid because of their low salaries. You are actually putting your life in danger by working under these conditions. Monetary compensation would give them a much needed boost to fulfill their duties.

“The municipality wants workers to return to work before we discuss matters, but we want to sort this out first. Workers want an answer from management. This is not a strike, this is just a sit-in.”

He said that both unions, Samwu and Imatu, have submitted joint proposals for consideration by Council.

“George Municipality has blatantly ignored our proposals without any feedback. Two of our members have passed on due to this brutal pandemic and workers are panicking. There are daily infections and the employer is not bothering to give workers a hearing, but rather choose to further frustrate them.”

According to Mcanjana the workers who lost the fight against Covid-19 were above the age of 60 and, according to the Health and Safety Regulations, should not have been working.

“We have made two attempts to meet with the MM [Trevor Botha] to find an amicable solution to the impasse. They are refusing to meet with us, while the unions want to try and mitigate the conflict and panic,” said Mcanjana.

In a notice on Monday, the municipality alerted the public to the fact that certain sewage services, as well as refuse collection, would be affected by the strike.

By Wednesday the situation remained the same, with essential workers for refuse collection and sanitation continuing an “unprotected strike”, according to Edwards-Klose.

“[They] are currently in discussions with their unions. Management continues to liaise with the unions to resolve the matter,” she said. “The Community Services directorate is again reviewing alternative service providers to assist with the removal of refuse.

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