Toilet cleaners strike over non-payment

Khayelitsha toilet cleaners have not been paid since January. Photo by Vincent Lali

The workers have resorted to strike action to get the cleaning company and the City of Cape Town to pay what is due to them.

Scores of angry cleaners gathered at Khayelitsha Training Centre to demand that Mbolompo Property Specialists pay them their salaries by Friday. The cleaners told Elitsha that they started to work in wards 94, 95, 96, 97, 98 and 99 in January but have not yet been paid. The company is contracted by the City of Cape Town for toilet cleaning under the Extended Public Works Programme.

Linomtha Mboza said the workers had decided to down tools and confront sub-council 10 manager, Mandlenkosi Sithonga, about their salaries. “We decided to stop working after we noticed that the cleaning company has not deposited our salaries into our bank accounts,” she said. Mboza said Sabelo Mbolompo, manager of Mbolompo Property Specialists, told her and other cleaners that they would be paid on February 15. “On February 10 he said invoices are sent to the City of Cape Town after the fifteenth of each month, so he would be able to pay us on February 29,” she said.

Mbolompo met the cleaners at Desmond Tutu Hall in Makhaza on February 26 and told them that they would be paid half salaries on 29 February. “Now we no longer want half salaries. We want full salaries. He should have told us from the start if we are volunteering,” Mboza said. The cleaners struggle to survive because of Mbolompo’s failure to pay them. “We have no money to buy food. Our cupboards are empty. I can’t send my kid money for transport to school and for food in the Eastern Cape, where she studies. I have borrowed money from a mashonisa [loanshark]. Now the interests are growing,” she said.

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Sithonga told the cleaners that he had alerted the City of Cape Town about the unpaid salaries. “I have phoned Kinana to whom Mbolompo reports. He confirmed that the city has not paid Mbolompo,” he said. Last week, Mbolompo told the cleaners at the same venue that the city had not paid him because his invoice doesn’t meet its requirements, a claim confirmed by Kinana who informed Sithonga that the city won’t bend the rules. “Kinana says he is writing a letter informing him that he is staining the city’s name because the workers know the city employed him,” Sithonga said.

The cleaners staged a sit-in at the City of Cape Town’s offices in Khayelitsha demanding answers and payment.

Ndithini Tyhido, chairperson of Khayelitsha Development Forum, said the cleaners’ strike affected rubbish collection in Khayelitsha. “I make objection to the non-payment of the workers. The municipality itself must pay them while sorting out the invoice,” he said.

The cleaners resolved to write a letter demanding that they be paid within a few days. It was not the first time that the cleaners stopped working. In November, Elitsha reported on how a toilet cleaning company was a victim of extortion gangs in Khayelitsha.

Not the first strike

On 22 February, the cleaners toyi-toyied outside sub-council 10 offices and demanded that Mbolompo reinstate 59 retrenched cleaners and give all cleaners their salaries. Yonela Mtyhobile said: “We have scattered rubbish in the streets and demonstrated in our ward, but our ward councillor and our managers didn’t come to ask us about our complaints, so we are here to speak to the sub-council chair,” she said. “We want the cleaning company to hire all of us and return to work all the cleaners who have been retrenched. Moreover, we want it to give us our salaries.”

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The cleaners are currently on month-to-month contracts but want the company to give them longer contracts, Mtyhobile said. Mbolompo told Elitsha: “The city tells me how many people I must hire. I can’t exceed the number. There are too many people. I can’t hire all of them.” Mbolompo met the cleaners and told them that he could not give them their salaries because the city had not yet processed his invoice.

The City of Cape Town said they are investigating the matter.

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