WAGE DEAL DEADLOCK
Strike still on the cards over public servants’ salary increase
COSATU’S biggest affiliate is not backing down from its refusal to campaign for the ANC ahead of this year’s local government elections due to the government’s failure to increase public servants’ salaries.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) will stick to its resolution despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plea on Workers’ Day to the country’s leading trade union federation that among the tripartite alliance’s immediate tasks was developing a common platform around mobilising and winning the municipal polls set for October 27.
Ramaphosa also indicated that another task for the alliance was to resolve the public service wage negotiations impasse.
The ANC’S national working committee this week also supported Ramaphosa’s call for the alliance’s long-standing assistance with campaigning for the elections as well as resolving the public servants’
wage dispute with the government.
Ramaphosa blamed the impact of the country’s precarious economic situation for the failure to finalise the wage agreement more than three months after public servants tabled their 4% plus the
consumer price index, which Cosatu puts at 3.1%. However, Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba told Independent Media that the union’s decision not to campaign for the ANC still stands while the 2017 national congress resolution to vote for the governing party can only be reviewed by a similar gathering scheduled for October this year.
According to Xaba, Nehawu and its members are cash strapped due to the government’s failure to implement the last leg of 2018 Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) wage agreement.
The dispute over the 2018 deal will now be settled by the Constitutional Court, which in August will hear arguments in the public service unions’ appeal of the December 2020 Labour Appeal Court ruling declaring the agreement unlawful as it contravened the Constitution and the Public Service Regulations.
Political analyst Professor Bheki Mngomezulu, of the University of the Western Cape, advised the government to go back to what was agreed to in the 2018 deal to buy time and allow emotions to subside.
Mngomezulu believes not honouring the agreement will benefit neither the government nor the unions.
However, he also warned that sidelining Cosatu’s public sector unions would mean snubbing a significant portion of the governing party’s voters, campaigners and sympathisers.
”The onus is on the ANC to put its house in order as workers form a huge chunk of the electorate,” explained Mngomezulu.
The warnings to the ANC come as some of the unions, representing 1.2 million public servants, appear divided over the next course of action at the negotiating table as their employer has stalled tabling any significant offer since March.
The eight unions, which represent state employees in national and provincial government departments, include Cosatu affiliates – Nehawu, SA Democratic Teachers Union, Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union and Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA – are largely still in favour of the facilitation proposed by the government.
However, the Public Servants Association (PSA), which is affiliated to the Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) like the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA and the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, looks set to abandon the negotiating table and declare a dispute.
The PSA felt that the independent facilitation process to break the deadlock proposed by the government on Monday, just as the unions had planned to file a dispute jointly, would cause further delays.
The union has publicly indicated to its over 235 000 members to prepare for industrial action if they want to secure a decent salary increase and protect existing negotiated benefits.
Osborne Molatudi, Molatudi Attorneys managing director and employment law specialist, said the length of negotiations depended on a stipulated timeline and parties at a bargaining council were obliged to meet it.
He said negotiations should commence and be completed within a reasonable time.
The number of issues on the table also determined the length of negotiations in cases where it is not only a salary dispute, according to Molatudi.
“The more complex and complicated the issues are, the longer the negotiations will be,” he warned.
The Fedusa affiliates will be joined by the SA Policing Union (Sapu), the only affiliate of the SA Federation of Trade Unions with PSCBC bargaining rights, and has expressed its unhappiness with the current wage negotiations, even accusing the government of negotiating in bad faith.
Sapu general secretary Tumelo Mogodiseng said the government was solely blaming public servants for its financial woes.
“We do not want to waste any time (with facilitation). We will be declaring a dispute,” explained Mogodiseng.
He insisted that Sapu was not going to be part of the facilitation process as the government was playing games with its employees.
According to Mogodiseng, the fact that the government has not placed any tangible offer before the PSCBC showed that it did not care about the sacrifices made by public servants during the Covid-19 pandemic and when the cost of living is spiralling out of control.
Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi has accused the government of trying to dump the bill for corruption on nurses who earn R186 000 a year.
”It is politicians, their friends and family who have destroyed our stateowned enterprises. It is business which has robbed the SA Revenue Service of billions (of rands) ... This is the height of immorality.”