Nelson Mandela Bay municipal staff receiving full benefits despite working from home

CITY HALL: Some Nelson Mandela Bay municipal employees have been accused of using Covid-19 as an excuse for not returning to the office, prompting the city to check up on how many have been inoculated against the virus
Image: DEVON KOEN

Nelson Mandela Bay employees continued receiving full benefits such as car allowances despite working from home during lockdown due to comorbidities.

This has prompted the city to conduct a survey of which employees have received the Covid-19 vaccination.

Corporate services boss Nosipho Xhego accused some employees of using the coronavirus as an excuse for not returning to the office.

The municipality is looking at the possibility of appointing a case manager to monitor staff absenteeism and sick leave.

The metro forked out R20.3m in April alone for allowances and paid out R27m in overtime.

In June, The Herald reported the city had lost 80,693 working days between October 2018 and September 2019.

More than 70% of the municipality’s workforce was booked off sick at a cost of R86.1m to taxpayers during the period.

Many of the employees, some of whom cited psychological reasons or muscular pain for their absence, took paid sick leave.

In a report discussed during a corporate services committee meeting on Thursday, Xhego said Covid-19 had affected the general work ethic in the municipality, adding there was possible abuse of service benefits.

She said ensuring benefits were not abused was the responsibility of management.

“The abuse of benefits and non-performance is, however, not only a Covid-19 matter — it is prevalent outside the Covid-19 pandemic as well.

“All directorates should take responsibility for non-performance within their relevant directorates.

“Compliance with level 4 lockdown regulations, however, makes it difficult to ensure optimum performance of all individual employees as a result of physical distancing measures that result in work rotation, staggering hours and working from home arrangements, and some employees not able to work at all due to the lack of necessary tools available or that it is not possible at all to work from home due to the nature of their job content.”

Xhego also raised the issue of car allowances during the pandemic.

The locomotion and car allowance policy was approved by the council in March 2018, with a review date of March 2021.

The policy applies to full-time employees in the municipality who, based on their work type, require the use of a vehicle if the municipality is unable to provide a vehicle from its fleet.

Department heads are expected to monitor monthly kilometres travelled and any other measures.

The policy states further that if an employee is on paid leave or absent for any reason, but still being paid, the car allowance would be reduced by 10% for the days absent.

Xhego said this was not happening.

“There have been no instances where applications were made to the city manager or delegated official to adjust the allowance upwards, downwards, or that the allowance be removed.

“With the introduction of lockdown from March 26 2020, and more than 50% of the employees on special leave, no adjustment was made on the locomotion allowance since that period,” she said.

Xhego said a few officials had not set foot back in the office for more than a year, yet continued receiving full benefits.

Corporate services political boss Annette Lovemore asked if people not inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine and not wanting to come to work had been taken into consideration.

“I’d like to have a review and see the training we’ve done in terms of work-home solutions.

“I know, for instance, MMC secretaries don’t know how to set up [Microsoft] Teams  meetings and don’t have any work-from-home devices,” Lovemore said.

Corporate services strategic and executive support office head Virna Zeelie  said directorates were told to indicate on spreadsheets which employees would be interested in vaccines.

“A very low percentage of officials responded.

“When the president made the announcement that all persons over 35 would be vaccinated, again the response was not forthcoming,” Zeelie said.

Xhego said the challenge was that the more Covid-19 regulations were relaxed in the metro, the more employees said they did not feel safe coming back to the office.

“The work-from-home solution is also another nightmare.

“We were nearly taken to court because of the work-from-home solution because when it was introduced, it was not budgeted for.

“It was meant to assist certain individuals who could not come to work at all, but then it was deployed to everyone who could come and use the internet at the workplace.

“Our own officials are not assisting the interventions that are implemented in the institution,” she said.

BY NOMAZIMA NKOSI

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