Uutoni enters city workers’ fray

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Uutoni enters city workers’ fray

Urban and Rural Development Minister Erastus Uutoni yesterday slammed the City of Windhoek’s leadership for failing to agree terms with striking cleaners. 

The city’s line minister did not mince his words, and castigated officials for rather sourcing workers from elsewhere to clean the city’s streets. 

“You are saying you want to create jobs, but now men and women are there in front of your offices crying. They are saying let’s sit and talk, but you don’t want. Maybe your budget cannot cope, but you as leaders need to sit together with them. You are sitting here, but your people are there running, and you need them tomorrow. Time will come, and you have been given ample time to do the right thing,” said Uutoni during the handover of eight houses in Khomasdal, constructed under the Windhoek Municipal Council’s Affordable Housing pilot programme.

The minister also summoned the city’s leadership to do something as a matter of urgency, and put political colours aside. 

The City of Windhoek’s Independence Avenue was left in a filthy state on Wednesday after the city’s cleaners went on strike on Monday. The frustrated workers left the rubbish strewn all over the main road running through the city’s central business district. However, the city sourced additional workers to clean up the mess from the striking workers, and soon restored the avenue to a relatively pristine state.

The city’s cleaners, formerly known as ward contractors, embarked on a demonstration at the beginning of the week to demand better working conditions. They are further demanding permanent employment, as many of them have been working on a contract basis from as far back as 1990.

Instead of engaging the workers, the city issued a statement on Wednesday, noting that the strike was illegal and that the demonstration was disruptive to the operations and service delivery of the city. 

According to the city’s acting CEO Faniel Maanda, there are ongoing efforts from the council to address grievances regarding the review of the workers’ conditions of employment in the hope of finding a lasting and sustainable solution.

“Council has, therefore, committed to 12 months, 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023, to complete the mentioned exercise, a period that runs parallel to the term of the contract of the current ward cleaners, and this period has not yet lapsed,” he said.

The city is claiming that the demands from workers are the same as those before its council. Furthermore, the city condemned the disruptive behaviour and vandalism caused to infrastructure as a result of the illegal gathering. Investigations into the root cause of the matter shall follow, and they vowed that corrective action will be taken.

Maanda said the city’s management engaged the protesting workers through their representatives on Monday in efforts to advise the protesters of the illegality of their protest. The striking workers were also advised on the correct procedures to follow, should they wish to submit a petition to Council.

However, the workers remained adamant that they would not abandon their strike.

Maanda added that council has made significant strides in improving the conditions of the ward cleaners over the years, as is evident in the pension, medical and housing allowances afforded to them, over and above the basic salary, which positions the remuneration package above the minimum wage.

“The direct contractual relationship with the ward cleaners emanated as a result of the council’s review of the previous arrangements, whereby private companies were previously awarded contracts, and subsequently employed cleaners in an exploitative manner. Council at the time deemed it fit to directly contract the ward cleaners as a means to improve their conditions, and extended improved remuneration as well as benefits to the ward cleaners,” he stated.

The scope of services rendered by the ward contractors include the sweeping of road surfaces, cleaning of streets, road reserves and open spaces. They also deal with the cleaning of stormwater catch pits and culverts, issuing of black bags to all households in informal settlements, collection of all household refuse in the informal settlements, as well as emptying all pole refuse and street bins.

The demonstration then led to the arrest of activist Michael Amushelelo, who joined the striking workers earlier in the week.