The City of Johannesburg and labour unions representing municipal workers have entered into an agreement that seeks to do away with wildcat strikes. The agreement will also involve labour in the city’s budget planning process.
The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) in the Johannesburg region signed the legally binding memorandum of understanding (MoU), said to be the first of its kind, with the city on Monday.
Regulated strike action
“We have the right to strike, we have not signed anything away,” said Imatu regional chairperson Keith Swanepoel. He explained that what the unions have signed clarifies the process that needs to be followed in the event that a labour dispute arises.
The MoU aims to maintain “stable” relations between the city and organised labour so as to not disrupt services to Johannesburg residents. The document states that “work stoppages, particularly those that disrupt service delivery, must be a method of last resort”.
“All parties must engage with one another in good faith, from a problem-solving perspective and with a view to minimise the scope for conflict,” the document states.
Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba told the media that since the new administration was elected to office the city has been fortunate enough not to have had any devastating protests, but that a framework is now in place to regulate the process long before any protest takes place.
Spontaneous strike action that hasn’t followed the relevant process will be halted.
The MoU also provides protection for municipal property and workers who are not protesting.
Union involvement in city budget for the first time
Another key aspect of the agreement is the involvement of unions when the city’s annual budget is being drafted or adjusted. In the same vein, labour will also be consulted when the city develops its strategic plan and integrated development plan.
“I think in the past, when I took over the administration, the unions were never party to the planning,” said Mashaba. “I cannot see any organisation being private or public where you don’t involve people who must execute.”
Samwu regional chair Vuyani Singonzo said this will also enhance transparency between the unions and in turn “manage perceptions”.
While labour will assist in informing the budget in terms of operations, wage and salary issues will still be handled at the National Bargaining Council.
“We are a stakeholder and we need to know what is happening there [in the budget] … it will enhance our trust whenever we negotiate at the bargaining council,” said Singonzo.
Further, Singonzo said the MoU will not be read as a document that compromises the needs of the workers, as it commits to reskilling members and reinforces some of the governance structures that exist in employment relations.
He said unions were not always “strike happy”, explaining that protest action was a pain for labour because it meant “no work, no pay”.
“With this MoU we are going to benefit because it is going to make sure that whoever was supposed to take a decision in resolving any matter that arises, they should have resolved it. If it leads to a strike it must be investigated,” Singonzo said.
“In the event that any of the parties breach this MoU, the enforcement procedures require binding arbitration with powers to award costs or necessitate disciplinary action against any employee of the city,” said Mashaba.
The agreement cannot be amended or withdrawn without the consent of all three parties, meaning that irrespective of which party is governing the city, the MoU will remain in force. It will also remain in place regardless of which political party in power.
The agreement comes as Mashaba is facing headwinds regarding his time as mayor as a motion of no confidence against him looms.
He told the media that he does not know what will happen on Thursday when the motion is debated.
The DA mayor survived attempts to remove him in 2017, with the much-needed backing of the EFF. It remains to be seen whether he will escape the hammer now on the back of comments by the red berets who have vowed to not vote for either the DA or the ANC.