The National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria yesterday denied allegations of financial problems.
Workers at the biggest zoo in the country have been on strike since Wednesday.
They claimed they have not received benefits from the employer, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi), for more than a year, since Sanbi became their employer on April 1 last year.
According to the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), workers in the landscape, conservation, finance and cleaning departments have been working under unsatisfactory conditions since they came under the employment of Sanbi.
“Since employees were transferred to Sanbi, benefits have not been given to us. There have been salary discrepancies, a lack of housing allowance and medical aid,” said NTUC branch secretary Frans Rasethe. “Workers are now treated differently, like we are the step-children of Sanbi.”
Staff were also aggrieved they were not paid for overtime, unlike other Sanbi staff, Rasethe said.
“At the zoo, we work seven days. However, Sanbi staff work Monday to Friday and, should they work on Saturday and Sunday, they get paid in full for overtime.
“Here at the zoo, we don’t get overtime accordingly.”
He said the union this week met Sanbi CEO Moshibudi Rampedi. Rampedi had claimed he was not authorised to release the funds to pay employee benefits, he said.
“The president of our union is currently engaging with Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy.
“For now, we will strike until our demands are met. We want housing allowances, medical aid and better working conditions.”
Sanbi spokesperson Craig Allenby denied the institute had any financial problems, saying the Pretoria Zoo was operating normally.
“We have staff available. Not all of our staff members are part of the union and we have those who are non-unionised and others who are in other unions.
“Our animals are being fed and everything is normal. I don’t know where that [the suggestion of financial problems] comes from,” Allenby said.
Workers at the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre and the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens were also taking part in the strike, Allenby said.
“Measures are in place to ensure the well-being of the animals.
“Arrangements have been made to minimise the impact of the strike on the visiting public and to ensure their safety,” he added.