Welkom municipal workers furious after learning they won’t be paid

A letter signed by the municipal manager states workers may have to wait until the end of October to get their salaries

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Protesting Matjhabeng Local Municipality workers dumped piles of rubbish and burnt tyres outside the offices in Welkom on Friday morning after they were told that they would not be paid until the end of the month. Photos: Becker Semela

  • The situation at the Matjhabeng Local Municipality’s Welkom office remained tense on Friday.
  • Hundreds of municipal workers continued their protest action which started on Wednesday after none of them received their salaries for October.
  • The municipality said its account was frozen a day before payments were to be made amid ongoing legal battles with service providers.
  • An attempt by the municipality to get a court order to allow it to pay its workers has apparently failed.
  • In a letter the municipal manager said that they hoped to get the issue resolved by the end of October.

The situation at the Matjhabeng Local Municipality’s offices in Welkom remains tense on Friday as hundreds of municipal workers continue their protests, demanding their unpaid salaries.

On Thursday, GroundUp reported on a sit-in by workers led by South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) after thousands of Matjhabeng workers, including the mayor, did not receive their salary for October. The municipality said its account was frozen a day before payments were to be made. This is amid ongoing legal battles with service providers who claim the municipality owes them millions of rands.

The municipality approached the South Gauteng High Court to grant urgent relief to allow it to pay salaries, but their application was denied.

Late on Thursday, protesting workers refused to be addressed by the Municipal Manager Lonwabo Ngoqo and demanded that Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Ketso Makume come to address them.

Makume arrived about an hour later and promised the workers that they would be paid eventually. “I cannot promise when you will get paid but I will work hard to engage all the stakeholders to solve the problem. Give me 24 hours. You have worked and I know you need to be paid,” said Makume.

He pleaded to them not to damage any municipal properties. “You have the right to strike but please do not damage any property because it will affect services to our people,” Makume said.

Makume briefly told GroundUp that Matjhabeng needs administrative rescue but said, “The focus for now is to get workers’ salaries.”

Workers were outraged after the municipal manager confirmed that they would not be paid any time soon.

A letter signed by the municipal manager on 26 October, apologised to workers and stated that it hoped to get the issue resolved by the end of the month. “Management is engaging with organised labour structures with regard to the matter in an attempt to find a longstanding solution.” Workers have been urged to return to their duties.

But on Friday morning, frustrated workers dumped piles of rubbish at the entrances of the municipal building. Refuse and many other essential services to communities have ground to halt amid the strike across all municipal departments.

When a minibus filled with police showed up to move over a hundred protesters from the municipality’s premises, the protesters sang struggle songs and danced as they surrounded the vehicle, forcing it to leave the premises. SAMWU leaders then pleaded for workers to remain calm.

Samuel Potsotso Liphoko of SAMWU said workers lost their tempers after Ngoqo’s letter that there won’t be payments made any time soon.

Liphoko said Ngoqo was not telling the truth because SAMWU was not consulted as claimed in the letter. “We managed to calm down our angry members and we are yet to go and have a meeting with the municipal manager,” said Liphoko.

Our attempts to get a comment from the Municipal Manager Ngoqo were fruitless. Our reporter was informed that Ngoqo had locked himself in the office on Friday afternoon.

Workers chase police away.

TOPICS:  Labour Labour unions

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