By Mashudu Netsianda
Bulawayo City Council (BCC) workers yesterday resumed work after a five-day strike over poor salaries, a situation which crippled critical services such as refuse collection, primary health care and burials.
The industrial action, which started last Wednesday, resulted in uncollected garbage in the city centre and residential areas piling up. Clinics were closed resulting in people failing to access primary health care.
Undertakers and relatives of deceased persons had to do some of the work normally done by council employees at gravesites such as scooping water from graves as well as deepening them.
BCC is now working on a new timetable for refuse collection which will be published soon as part of efforts to clear the backlog emanating from the strike.
The workers had vowed not to return to work until their grievances were addressed. Council has a workforce of about 3 600 employees. The least paid BCC worker earns a basic salary of $1 900.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), the latest Poverty Datum Line (PDL) for an average family of five stands at $17 244,07.
The workers who fall under the Zimbabwe Urban Councils Workers Union (ZUCWU) have accused council management of failing to address the issue of poor salaries.
In December last year, the workers staged a sit-in as they demanded to be paid Covid-19 allowances and asked management to increase their salaries, which they said lagged far behind the living wage range.
The sit-in saw long winding queues at council clinics in a number of suburbs as people waited patiently hoping to be attended to by nurses.
The ZUCWU Bulawayo branch chairperson Mr Ambrose Sibindi yesterday confirmed to Chronicle that council workers have returned to work following a meeting with their employer.
“Today (yesterday) everyone is back at work. We held a meeting with management and they came up with their offer. It should be noted that while we are not happy with their offer, we felt there was a need to compromise and return to work as negotiations continue,” he said.
Mr Sibindi said they will continue to engage council as the generality of workers are struggling to survive. “Most workers’ families cannot afford even basics because of these poor salaries. Some workers are paid a basic salary of less than $2 000 when the PDL is around $20 000 a month,” he said.
Mr Sibindi said the industrial action was meant to push council management to increase the workers’ salaries as agreed at the December 7 works council meeting.
He said council management is unilaterally changing agreements reached at works council meetings which is “unfair labour practice”
Mr Sibindi accused council management of failing to meet its obligation of increasing salaries and paying salaries on time. He said there was no excuse for council to fail to review workers’ salaries upwards following the approval of the 2021 budget.
Government recently approved Bulawayo City Council (BCC’s) over $16 billion 2021 budget, which will see residents fork out more for services.
Rates have already increased by 372 percent with effect from this month following Government’s December approval of the city’s $551 million supplementary budget.
Acting Bulawayo town clerk Mrs Sikhangele Zhou said they held a meeting with workers and they agreed to return to work while their grievances are being attended to.
“We managed to find each other and workers are back at work as of this (yesterday) morning. The union leadership has called off the strike and as council we agreed to engage them and negotiations are continuing because it’s a process not an event,” she said
“We hope in the end we will be able to address their grievances in terms of their welfare. We value our workers as they are important to us, but at the same time it has to be balanced with whatever is available in terms of resources.”
Mrs Zhou said they are working on a new timetable for refuse collection which they will publish and share with residents.
“Basically, we are trying to clear all backlogs that were not fulfilled last week and clearing dumps in the city centre until we catch up. In the residential areas, we will honour last week’s schedules and visit more areas for refuse collection,” she said.
“We also noted that sewer bursts were not being attended to because of the strike. As council we are also working flat out to address that challenge so that they (sewer bursts) are brought under control.”
When a Chronicle news crew moved around the city centre, it observed BCC street cleaners picking up litter. Council refuse collection trucks were also moving around the city collecting garbage.
Mrs Zhou urged residents to pay their rates to enable council to offer effective service delivery.
She said the rate at which council is collecting tariffs and levies from ratepayers has significantly dropped because of the lockdown.
Mrs Zhou urged residents to utilise online platforms for payment of bills.
“The generality of people has not embraced online payments. We, therefore, urge our rate payers to use our online platforms even if they are unable to go to our revenue halls. Our revenue halls including those in the high density suburbs are open and people are free to go there although we encourage people to use online payments,” she said. The Chronicle