Workers refuse to pay back 'early Christmas'

Nkomazi municipality's mayor Johan Mkhatshwa is facing a R13m headache after workers were paid twice./MANDLA KHOZA
Nkomazi municipality's mayor Johan Mkhatshwa is facing a R13m headache after workers were paid twice./MANDLA KHOZA

They thought Christmas had arrived early when their employer "blessed" them with salaries 10 days before payday.

But when the Nkomazi municipality in Malalane, Mpumalanga, realised the mistake, it told its 1,073 employees that they would not be paid again at the end of the month.

The workers rebelled, shutting down water supply for a day to the towns and villages the municipality services.

The municipality buckled under pressure and paid them on October 25.

But then the municipality wanted its money back and imposed a 20% salary deduction over seven months in an attempt to recoup the R13m it had irregularly spent on salaries on October 15.

The workers were having none of it, saying they regarded the first payments in the month of October as "a gift" from the employer.

The Nkomazi municipality said it was all one big "mistake" and insisted that the money should be paid back.

"What happened here was a mistake, instead of sending traveling claims for payment someone sent salary payments," said municipal manager, Dan Ngwenya.

"The total amount paid was R13.6m and we managed to return about R9m from senior management who didn't get paid on the 25th this month but only opted to receive the travelling claims, not their salaries.

"We have given the other employees seven months which is until May next year to pay back the money which is before the end of the current financial year.

"Again my office and the council have launched investigations regarding this and we are talking to the unions and the employees too," Ngwenya said.

The Nkomazi municipality, which covers towns such as Komatipoort, Malalane and Hectospruit and adjoining rural areas up to the borders with Mozambique and Eswatini, survives mainly on municipal infrastructure grant funds from the national treasury.

Municipal employees however say they are not willing to pay back the money.

"For me paying back the money will not happen, I get paid R13,000 and one deduction from my account will leave me and my family out of money to survive.

"I think the municipality should investigate and find out why we were paid before payday.

"For us this was a gift, that's all," said an employee who didn't want to be named.

South African Municipality Workers Union chairperson in the Nkomazi municipality, Vusi Mpofu, said the matter must be investigated independently of the council and that negotiations would then have to take place with employees on how much they can afford to pay.

"Firstly, employees get paid on the 25th of each month and here we have a municipality paying people on the 15th.

"The municipality can't give loans and we don't know how this can be explained so we seek a forensic investigation by an independent person or firm because we can't have councillors doing that...

"Our members don't earn that much and paying back the money will be a problem...," said Mpofu.

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