News / South Africa

Gosebo Mathope
4 minute read
4 Sep 2017
1:56 pm

‘Financially strapped’ City of Joburg docks employees’ salaries for outstanding bills

Gosebo Mathope

Employees claim the City failed to formally communicate the decision to deduct their salaries even where arrangements were made.

A row has erupted between City of Johannesburg employees, most of them members of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and the DA-led administration, over an alleged unilateral decision to dock their salaries.

Several employees, most of them lowly paid with an average gross salary of about R10 000 and speaking on condition of anonymity, spoke to The Citizen about their shock when the salary advice slips for the past three months showed deductions between R250 to R2 000 for outstanding water bills.

Samwu regional secretary for Joburg region Bafana Zungu confirmed the union members approached the union’s offices in the CBD and requested an intervention, as the deductions were never thoroughly explained.

“I am not aware of a decision taken by the municipality to deduct employees’ salaries to recoup debts, but our members have come to Samwu offices to report. We are aware that there is such an action. We need to understand that there is a policy to deal with such.

“Workers are given an opportunity to make arrangements. A challenge arises when the municipality is not making workers aware of such and instead docks their salaries. This is very bad,” said Zungu.

Luyanda Mfeka, the acting director for mayoral communications in executive mayor Herman Mashaba’s office, clarified: “A total of 2 971 employees owes the City R50 million in excess of 90 days for municipal services, and they currently don’t have acknowledgement of debt to service the arrears.”

READ MORE: City of Joburg officials told to pay only salaries and VAT

Mfeka said that roughly translated into just under 1% of the total debtor’s book of the City, and said the City and its Municipal Owned Entities (MOEs) “have communicated through the internal communications to raise the matter”.

This statement was rejected by Zungu. “We don’t know of any correspondence between City of Joburg, even if there was such, it doesn’t give the CoJ [the right to deduct salaries]. We have a department at Thuso House [customer service centre], where workers can make arrangements. Even those who have made arrangements have their salaries docked.”

Some insiders have suggested the City’s hasty decision to collect the R50 million was because the City’s books were currently not balancing, with Mashaba having been warned by various CFOs during the budget lekgotla that the operational budget had to be cut by R1.5 billion. The Citizen has previously reported on how he refused to budge.

‘Die man wa tella [Mashaba is disrespectful].’

In a written response to The Citizen, Mfeka explained there was no need for council to adopt a resolution to dock employees’ salaries, as, in terms of the Municipal Systems Act of 2000, the directive was lawful.

He further said the directive was in compliance with the code of conduct for Municipal Employees Clause 10, which prescribes that “a staff members of a municipality may not be in arrears to the municipality for rates and service charges for a period longer than three months, and a municipality can deduct any outstanding amounts from staff members salary after this period”.

The City also claimed to have sent notification letters to all affected staff alerting them about this matter and advising them to make arrangements. It said communication was done through “electronic media” as well as through the human resources department. Mfeka agreed with Samwu’s claim that the City did not consult the union, as “the City obtains its mandate from the its Credit Control & Debt collection policy”.

A disgruntled employee told The Citizen: “Die man wa tella [Mashaba is disrespectful]. We are close to walking into his office and asking him, ek se, meneer, how do you expect us to feed, clothe and educate our children with these low wages and still deduct salaries? Some of us are even struggling to get work at month end.”

“It goes as far as those who are staying in their parents’ house [whose parents owe the municipality], the City [transfers that burden by docking] employees’ salaries because their parents are in debt. They are punished for their parents’ [indigent] status,” added Zungu.

He said this decision has angered workers who, at best of times, have signed acknowledgement of debts in good faith, only for the City’s shambolic “SAP system” to fail to capture information accurately. “Most of those who have made arrangements to pay continue to have their salaries deducted.”

“We are avoiding downing tools and taking to the streets to strike. This is why on Friday we met the acting CFO, and he blatantly told us that he has been instructed to implement the decision by those above him,” Zungu added.