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Civil servants gear up to strike

NEWS


Mchunu is adamant that Treasury has no money for salary increases as the country faces a myriad of challenges.

A general strike by public service workers looks set to go ahead as South African trade unions this week moved to declare a deadlock after the last round of negotiations with the department of public service and administration failed to yield the desired outcome.

Government is understood to have doubled down on its stance that National Treasury had no money to pay for public sector salary increases.

According to the unions, government’s only “revised offer” came in the form of a proposal that funds currently allocated for pay progression, resettlement costs for workers relocated to another province and daily allowances should no longer be paid out. Instead, those funds would be channelled towards the salary increases that are being demanded by public sector workers.

The proposal has been described by Public Servants Association (PSA) general manager, Reuben Maleka, as “absurd” and amounting “to nothing more than a mere shifting around of funds” to no real benefit for workers.

“Labour thus rejected the employer’s offer and jointly indicated that a deadlock had been reached. The dispute resolution processes, as per the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council constitutional provisions, will now be followed,” Maleka said.

READ: Unions gear up for wage battle

“It is important to ensure that this procedure is followed meticulously to avoid delays that could derail the dispute process, bearing in mind that public servants should have received salary increases on April 1.

“The employer further proposed a review of all allowances and the leave dispensation of public servants as it believes that there are too many leave categories and allowances for public servants. The PSA was, however, adamant that the union would not agree to reduce any benefits that public servants were currently entitled to. These benefits were achieved through years of intense negotiations.”

Maleka added that the PSA had advised the union’s more than 235 000 members to prepare for industrial action to secure a decent salary increase and protect existing benefits.

These workers were supposed to receive these salaries this month, and this has not happened. And on top of this, the increases they were meant to get last year were never honoured.

Reuben Maleka

The PSA, other trade unions affiliated to Cosatu, and the Federation of Unions of SA (Fusa), had tabled a salary increase proposal linked to inflation plus 4%.

The demand is higher than February’s 2.9% inflation rate and the SA Reserve Bank’s forecast of an average of 4.3% inflation this year.

Other demands included a R2 500 housing allowance and a payout of 12% of a public servant’s salary if they are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the department reiterated that salaries were paid by Treasury, whose stance is that there are no funds to foot the bill for any sort of increase. Treasury blamed this on South Africa’s poor economic condition.

THE STANDOFF

At their last meeting on April 15, the department formally tabled a 0% offer, effectively meaning that public servants would not be getting any salary increases for a second year in a row.

Unions did not accept this, saying it was a slap in the face for workers who had been at the forefront of fighting the pandemic. They were expecting a revised offer from government during negotiations on Friday, which lasted long into the night.

Instead of getting their way, unions told City Press that they were subjected to “a lecture on patriotism” and were told how they ought to look out for the interests of the countries’ citizens instead of just those of their members.

What was also puzzling for the unions was that local government authorities made an offer of 2.8%, while both provincial and national government stuck to their guns and offered 0%.

Instead of making a compromise, government negotiators then proposed an offer “based on a principle of using, among other things, funds allocated for pay progression, resettlement costs, daily allowances and encashment of leave to fund a cost of living adjustment”.

READ: Labour court dismisses public-sector unions’ application to compel government to increase wages

City Press understands that the PSA, public sector trade unions affiliated to Cosatu and Fusa all rejected this offer and moved to declare a deadlock.

The unions will therefore evoke deadlock resolution mechanisms, which include obtaining a strike certificate and embarking on mass action. While public sector unions affiliated to Cosatu and Fusa have not specified when the strike is likely to take place, Maleka told City Press it would be in June.

This was because the unions needed to consult with their members, then deliberate among themselves before the national mass action could go ahead, he said.

December Mavuso, Nehawu’s deputy general-secretary, said: “These workers were supposed to receive these salaries this month, and this has not happened. And on top of this, the increases they were meant to get last year were never honoured.”

Mavuso said that, after failing to reach an amicable solution after 21 days of negotiations, the unions were left with no choice but to declare a deadlock.

MCHUNU WEIGHS IN

After bending over backwards and awarding public servants inflation-busting salary increases for more than a decade, which accelerated the deterioration of the fiscus, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu has now drawn a line in the sand.

Government has a direct responsibility to ensure that it reduces this staggering unemployment rate through creating more positions in the public sector, especially in policing and education.

Senzo Mchunu

Mchunu, to the frustration of the unions, briefed the media on the eve of the final round of negotiations this week, restating National Treasury’s stance that there was no money for any salary increases.

Mchunu said there was “no plan B for us [the department]; we only have one plan and there are no funds”.

As a result, the minister said he had informed government negotiators to highlight to the unions’ representatives that there were other interested parties in the public sector wage negotiations, beyond the unions and the department, such as “the country’s citizens and their interests”.

He added that besides the public wage negotiations, government was also inundated with other societal needs, which included the high unemployment rate, which is at 32.5%.

“Government has a direct responsibility to ensure that it reduces this staggering unemployment rate through creating more positions in the public sector, especially in policing and education – two components that have been facing drastic shortages in staff,” said Mchunu.

He also suggested that, in future, the media should be allowed to sit in during the negotiations to prove to the citizens who was negotiating in bad faith and in whose interest the different parties where negotiating.

Mchunu added that government had appointed an independent facilitator “who will look beyond our own subjectivity” and factor in the interest of the public service workers.


Juniour Khumalo 

Political Journalist


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