Three thousand expanded public works programme workers say that they were unfairly dismissed by the Ekurhuleni Metro municipality. City spokesperson Themba Gadebe said they will not be reinstated because they were part of a short-term contractual project.
“They will not be [re]employed because that was a programme that had a duration of 12 months and that has lapsed. It’s not sustainable for us to say for every programme that we have, people must be absorbed,” he said.
Some were dismissed as early as June 2015. Many have remained unemployed since then.
Gadebe said people applied for the position with the hope of being absorbed permanently. He challenged New Frame to find a contract with a clause stating that workers would be permanently employed after 12 months.
In June 2017, the Labour Appeals Court ruled that workers who were contracted by temporary employment services automatically become permanent employees after working at a company for longer than three months.
But Gadebe said the ruling did not apply to the workers in question as the programme they were working under was not contractual, which means they were not permanently employed. “The people you are talking about are not in the employ of the City. It is a programme that has a stipend, that is a fundamental difference. They are not temporarily employed, it is a ward-based programme,” he said.
Barrington Makhamba, who was a general worker for the City through the programme, says workers did various jobs, including cleaning streets, parks, old age homes, stadia, cemeteries, dumping sites and storm water drains.
Another worker, Patrick Selepe, told New Frame that he had worked for the City since 2014, at which time workers were paid R1 980 a month, with a R20 deduction for UIF. The stipend increased to R2 500. Selepe said some workers had not been paid since August 2016, when they last worked.
I was often not paid on time, which meant I had to borrow money.
“I was often not paid on time, which meant I had to borrow money. By the time I got paid, most of my money went to people I owed. I ended up in debt,” said one of the workers, a teary-eyed woman who did not want to be named.
“I tried to get an RDP house, but I was told [by the Department of Labour] that I am still employed by the municipality when I have not worked for them since August 2016,” said another woman in the crowd.
Selepe said he had been unsuccessful in securing a grant for his child for the same reason.
Gadebe maintained that the allegations that workers were still employed by the City were baseless. “I don’t think there is any truth to that. If there is any discrepancy, and people can prove it, we can look into it, and they must come forward without bringing up unfounded allegations of corruption.”
On 7 June 2018, 195 workers who pursued legal action against the dismissals were each awarded R6 000 by Commissioner Timothy Boyce of the Local Government Bargaining Council. However, the council found that the workers did not prove that they were employed by the municipality, which meant that the existence of the alleged unfair dismissals was not established.
Gadebe said the City welcomed the ruling, adding that it would adhere to the order, “which stated nothing about giving permanent jobs”.
The award has caused some issues among the workers, according to Jacob Potlaki, an organiser at the Casual Workers Advice Office. “We have about 3 000 workers. We don’t know how we will divide this money or who we will give it to because there are a lot of workers and the award mentioned only 195 workers. These people [were] working under the municipality for three years, and yet they are being paid for three months,” said Potlaki.
Makhamba rejected the R6 000 compensation, saying it was unclear how the council came to the amount and how it equated to three years of alleged unpaid work. Instead, he said, the workers should be given permanent jobs.
I am now 55 and they are telling me that I am too old.
Lester Daniels, another general worker, accused the City of imposing age restrictions to keep elderly workers out. “I got this job when I was 50 years old. I am now 55 and they are telling me that I am too old. Why did they employ me in the first place? They can’t come and play and tell me to get a pension. I want my job, I cannot sit at home,” he said.
More than a month after the ruling, on 12 July, the dismissed workers marched from the Casual Workers Advice Office to Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina’s office in Germiston to hand over a memorandum demanding permanent jobs. General worker Thobeka Masina said they were marching because they wanted answers. “We are supporting kids. We are old. Where will we get jobs at this age?” she asked.
Some workers claim that they got certificates after attending training, but when they used them to apply for other jobs, they were told that their certificates were not accredited. Gadebe said the certificates were more like a reference citing experience, and suggested that people were probably applying for jobs they should not be applying for.
Titus Nkosi, a general worker and ANC card-carrying member, said workers were used and discarded after they voted. He said he wanted to go back to school, save up for his child and live in the suburbs. “I am not prepared to go and steal – that ends with you in jail or dead,” he said. They are making us their doormats. We are nothing to them, and that hurts. Their kids are going to school, ours are not.
Nkosi expressed frustration that the party he voted for has forgotten about him. “They are making us their doormats. We are nothing to them, and that hurts. Their kids are going to school, ours are not. Our government is failing us – they are just recycling poverty,” he said.