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- By Andrew Barnes
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The Pikitup* strike that endured for 5 weeks annoyed me. It annoyed me due to the fact that a lot of people were simply refusing to do their work.
It annoyed me because the world I lived in started looking like a trash can. Moreover it annoyed me because others tried to extract a quick profit through adhoc bin emptying (going rate R50+ per bin). And it also annoyed me because many of these nascent entrepreneurs dumped their loads in common spaces. Or so it seemed.
What was the strike about? A monthly salary of R10 000 was needed to replace a current salary of R6000 a month. That is what the workers demanded. The tax tables indicate that with taxes and rebates, a R6000 monthly salary might translate into a R5875 (excluding other deductions for medical, housing, etc). But the demand, unreasonable as it was, asked for R10 000 which after tax alone would net about R9100. So that’s it. R9100 (or less) to take my trash away. A payment of R300 a day for a person working long hours, probably supporting more than him or herself. And so it dawned on me. The problem was neither the strikers nor their demands. The problem was affordability.
A quick glance at UK refuse collector pay scales showed that their salaries, in this hallowed hard currency empire, were around a Rand equivalent of R25000p/m or much more. So our strikers were striking for less than half what their compatriots earned elsewhere. Yes, that’s about it.
In short, the answer is simple. If we cannot afford to pay those that remove our effluent from our doorstep at least R300 a day or a lot more, then we should do it ourselves. That to me is a no brainer. Put simply “Can we afford to throw it away?”
After looking at the issues my feeling was that the Pikitup strikers were justified. The problem lies not with culture, work ethic, and education. The problem is simply one of affordability. We need to pay more to discard what we do.
And this is where the argument gets really interesting because I have not touched on the social and environmental costs of what we discard. Think about a plastic bucket, as an example… a bucket that you may buy for R35. After a year it breaks and you throw it away. This bucket will continue to degrade and poison the earth through the release of phthalates, bisphenol A, and other poisons for about 500 or even 1000 years. It will wreak damage to the environment including soil cultures, water runoff and subterranean water reserves that we cannot undo, certainly not at an initial cost of R35.
The initial cost of the bucket soon pales into insignificance in the face of the on-going environmental costs that will be borne by other generations in time. Yet increasingly the future generation is the one you’re in. It’s happening now because of what your parents did and because of what you did not long ago.
The truth is we cannot afford the enduring environmental cost of discarding that bucket. And we can’t even pay a living wage to those charged with removing it from our doorstep.
The problem, dear reader, lies not with Pikitup nor the demands of their employees. The problem lies with us, our excessive consumption, and our faux belief in our incontrovertible authority over the natural world we live in.
*Pikitup: the local refuse removal company.
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