A nationwide strike by thousands of Post Office and Telkom workers has left hundreds of social grant beneficiaries stranded.
The workers, who have been on strike since July 6, are demanding higher wages and have hindered the payment of social grants in the process.
The three unions who represent the Post Office and Telkom employees – the Communication Workers Union (CWU), Customs Union, and the Democratic Postal and Communications Union – say they have been fighting for a wage increase for over three years.
The unions are demanding a 12% salary increase from both entities, but the Post Office says it can only afford a salary increase of 6% across-the-board for all employees from August 1. Telkom is offering employees a 3% increase.
CWU general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala said that the strike had resulted in a national shutdown at the Post Office.
Tshabalala said it was unacceptable that the entity had not given its workers a salary increase in over two years, despite securing some contracts, like the distribution of social grants.
“After our one-day strike‚ employers moved from zero percent to 6%. We were demanding 12% but we are at 10%.
“It has been two years without a salary increase for workers at the Post Office. You can say there is progress [in negotiations] but consider the financial situation that workers have been facing for the past two years‚” he said.
Besides the strike, grant beneficiaries have been unable to access their money due to the Social Security Agency experiencing a system malfunction after the agency introduced new payment cards.
In a statement on July 6, the Post Office urged beneficiaries affected by the strike to withdraw their grants at ATMs and other retail stores.
GroundUp reported on Wednesday that many beneficiaries, like Nomzamo Khuse from Sweetwater, had been standing in line since 5am.
“When we came, the doors were closed. The employees told us they cannot help us. They said they have embarked on a strike. It’s clear that we will go home without being paid.”
A Post Office employee who asked not to be named, said staff became upset because they had not received a pay increase in three years.
“There is an overload of work. We work overtime but we are not paid well. The work is strenuous since we are working with the beneficiaries. We open at 5am and go home at 8.30pm. It’s more work but less money.”
Another Post Office employee, Jabulani Mtungwa, said: “We now service many people. That is a challenge. They need to improve the systems. They make working very difficult. We love our jobs but there are challenges. Look at these people [beneficiaries], they are frustrated and angry. Unfortunately, we cannot help them unless our issues are attended to.”
The negotiations between unions and the entities had started earlier in the year before they hit a deadlock. The matter went to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and the unions were granted a certificate to embark on a strike.
Tshabalala said that while the strike would continue‚ they were still meeting with employers in Johannesburg to find a solution.