City Officials Threatening to “Book Off” workers who “speak to the SJC”
On Tuesday 19 March 2013, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) was called to a protest organised by approximately 80 janitors in Enkanini, Khayelitsha. The janitors are employed by the City of Cape Town to maintain communal toilets and standpipes as part of the Janitorial Service for informal settlements that has been operating since mid-2012.
Janitors in Enkanini protest over payment failures
The janitors organised the protest because of payment issues and a lack of communication from the City to address their legitimate concerns and threats from the project manager. Many janitors have reported non-payment, while others have been paid more than four times their usual salary. The SJC has been working to assist the janitors on this matter since early March 2013 by urging the City on several occasions to meet with janitors to explain the discrepancies, but unfortunately no action has yet been taken. In addition, the janitors reported intimidation prior to the protest – having been told by supervisors that the Project Manager would “book them off” if they held further meetings with the SJC or amongst themselves about these concerns. Though Tuesday’s protest took place in Enkanini, there have been similar complaints across the areas where the service has been implemented. The SJC has been urging the City to intervene since 8 March when a letter was sent outlining a number of key problems with the payment process for janitors, and notifying them that the situation was becoming increasingly volatile, and that urgent consultation with the janitors was required.
In a response to the SJC on 13 March, the City maintained that the payment discrepancies were a result of an outsourced payroll system failure and that remedial action would be taken. However, there has been no meaningful consultation between the City and janitors regarding how the situation will be rectified. Janitors who have been overpaid have told us that they do not oppose paying back what the City overpaid them; it is the manner in which the City has conducted itself and the lack of information which has led to the current state of confusion and anger.
At Tuesday’s protest, the Project Manager was unwilling to engage in a discussion with the janitors. The janitors consequently provided a list of grievances and requested a response by Friday 22 March 2013. Chronic payment failures present a serious threat to the effectiveness of this critical service. The City must act immediately to resolve this situation, and appropriately communicate remedial action to all janitors. We further call on the City to investigate allegations of intimidation and threats made by city officials to workers, which serve to undermine the SJC’s continued efforts to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the service is implemented effectively.
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