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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements


7 August 1998

Press Statement

Conciliation in the Mpumalanga Division of the Local Government Bargaining Council last night failed to resolve the dispute lodged by the South African Municipal Workers Union against the Nelspruit Transitional Local Council. The union lodged the dispute against the municipality over its intentions to privatise the water on a 30-year contract to British multinational, Biwater.

COSATU is deeply concerned about Nelspruit TLC's determination to privatise water, despite an existing agreement in the Local Government National Bargaining Council that the public sector is the preferred deliverer of services. There had also been agreement within Mpumalanga's alliance structures that the privatisation should not go ahead - the TLC has undermined this. The federation will be now considering all options to put an end to the privatisation for once and for all.

In accordance with COSATU Central Committee resolutions that "water should not be privatised", the province has designated August as a month of action against privatisation in Mpumalanga. About 100 000 workers are expected to embark on a strike action on the 19th August 1998. This will bring the province to a complete standstill.

In the first test case of the new Water Services Act, SAMWU is claiming that the privatisation contravenes clause 19 (2) of Chapter Three. The clause states that "a water services authority may only enter into a contract with a private sector water services provider after it has considered all known public sector water services providers which are willing and able to perform the relevant functions."

A recent article in the Business Report newspaper revealed that Nelspruit TLC has made no effort to redistribute existing resources and services since the days of apartheid. The newspaper revealed that only 17 water workers service the "township" areas of Nelspruit which has a population of around 100 000 people, while 125 workers are used to deliver water to less than 25 000 people living in advantaged areas of the town.

COSATU will be using the general strike on August 19th to implement an "emergency plan" for water delivery that will include the redeployment of workers and equipment into Nelspruit's township areas as an urgent means of providing water for those with no access.

Resistance to the privatisation initiative is also mounting overseas. Public Services International, the federation of over 20 million public sector workers worldwide, has been corresponding with Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Kader Asmal on the issue for some time. The federation received an undertaking from the Minister that any privatisation that is not in line with existing water legislation will be ruled invalid.

In a recent interview with British magazine Utility Week, Biwater Chairman Adrian White admitted that water contracts "are not good for the client. They are, however, superb for the contractor. The contractor gets four sources of profit: construction, financial engineering, equity dividend and management contract."

For comments, please call the COSATU Mpumalanga Regional Secretary, Norman Mokoena on 0135 6560289/90 or SAMWU Provincial Secretary, Pogisho Pasha, on 082 975 4588.

Nowetu Mpati COSATU Head of Communications

Tel: + 27 + 11 + 339-4911 Fax: + 27 + 11 + 339-2281 E-mail: nowetu@cosatu.org.za