TALKS to end the lack of uniformity in the remuneration of municipal workers are due to start this week, amid hope that the long-running dispute could finally be settled.

Last year, the Labour Court ordered the South African Local Government Association (Salga) to implement a wage curve agreement that it signed in 2010 with the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu).

According to the labour court judgment, the wage curve agreement "regulates and consolidates jobs in municipalities by classifying them and providing for job descriptions". This agreement curbs the threat of nepotism and corruption in the hiring and payment of staff in municipalities.

An example provided by Samwu is of a complaint it received last week that a personal assistant to a political boss in a small municipality receives a salary of R800,000 a year.

Judgment was handed down in October last year but has yet to be implemented, as Salga had opted to appeal, prompting Samwu to embark on protests across the country at the end of last year.

Samwu spokesman Tahir Sema said on Monday the unions and the employer association had now agreed to a "facilitation process" to resolve the issue.

The terms of reference of the facilitation process were agreed to at the first meeting last Friday.

Imatu deputy general secretary Craig Adams would not be drawn on the talks so far.

The wage curve was a "sensitive issue" as it remained the subject of negotiation, he said. Within the next 10 days the local government bargaining council would convene a meeting between Samwu, Imatu and Salga to resolve the impasse.

Mr Sema said it was "vital" for wages in the sector to be structured and standardised. Administrators in the same category of municipality earned varying salaries.

"There is no uniformity, some people are earning too little and others too much for the same work.

"It is basically an attempt to standardise the system. The pay differences cause huge problems" he said. Parties had now showed "willingness" to resolve the matter.

The sticking point in the agreement is its backdating to July 2010 — which means Salga would have to implement the wage curve agreement and backdate payments from municipalities that may already be battling financially.

In a statement released by Salga when the judgment was handed down, the association predicted that implementing the judgment would spell "dire financial repercussions for municipalities".

The association had conducted an assessment of municipalities to establish the effect impact of the judgement on those municipalities affected by it.

In 2003, Salga and the two unions began talks on a wage curve collective agreement, but this was not finalised.

However, a dispute over the matter was only referred to the bargaining council on January 27 2009 by Samwu. Its members downed tools in March 2010 over the issue.

Negotiations then took place and the wage curve agreement was signed on April 21 — after marathon meetings the day before. One of the sticking points between parties was whether workers should get back-pay. The parties ultimately agreed on April 20 that workers covered by the wage curve agreement would receive nine months in back-pay.

The dispute which eventually ended up in court surrounded the issue of back-pay — Salga argued that it had not agreed to back dating payments to July 1 2010.

The Labour Court ruled in favour of the unions and Salga was ordered to pay the costs.