Public service wage talks in jeopardy as unions torn over new offer

Sadtu has told its members to accept the offer, while unions such as Nehawu, PSA and Popcru have vowed to reject anything outside the baseline

07 July 2021 - 14:01 By nonkululeko njilo
Union leaders at the Union Buildings, among them Cosatu first deputy president Mike Shingange, Sadtu secretary Mugwena Maluleke and Cosatu secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali. File image.
Union leaders at the Union Buildings, among them Cosatu first deputy president Mike Shingange, Sadtu secretary Mugwena Maluleke and Cosatu secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali. File image.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Public servants' unions are again split on the government's latest wage offer, in the ongoing talks which have deadlocked for months.  

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has told its members to accept the offer, while unions such as the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), the Public Servants' Association (PSA) and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) have vowed to protect collective bargaining and would reject anything outside the baseline.

The government has tabled a 1.5% increase plus a R1,000 cash allowance, resulting in an effective 11.7% increase for the lowest paid public servants. It previously offered a R978 cash gratuity for a year.

Nehawu said the proposed wage increase was a fallacy, because this was a percentage already budgeted for and did not come as a result of the negotiations. The union said it was engaging with its members but maintained it would reject the current offer which was outside the baseline. 

“Whatever happens we shall work very hard to defend collective bargaining in the public service and by extension across the public sector. Nehawu remains resolute that it shall refuse to sign any offer outside baseline, which does not contribute to the pensionable service, as a matter of principle.”

Speaking on behalf of Sadtu, Mugwena Maluleke said the proposed offer was not ideal but  one that members would sign, given various challenges. 

“The national executive of Sadtu has said that under these circumstances, it’s not a very good deal. However, the members have suffered a great deal last year without any increase, so the members should accept this increase on the basis that members want money to deal with various issues. As Sadtu, we will sign after seeking clarity on Friday,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of Popcru, Richard Mamabolo said it would reject the offer if the employer made no adjustments by Friday. “The draft agreement is similar to employer's position as articulated during the facilitation process,” he said.

“Popcru demands that the employer must consider incorporating non-pensionable gratuity into the baseline to effect real increase into public servants salaries. We are still adamant that [in case of] failure by the employer to pronounce on Friday on the issue of baseline, we will reject the offer, as earlier communicated to our members.”

Mamabolo said the union was not oblivious to the economic conditions but refused to set a wrong precedent by giving in to the current offer.

Government approached the 2021 public service salary negotiations with a closed wallet.
Reuben Maleka, PSA spokesperson

The PSA has repeatedly accused the government of negotiating in bad faith. Responding to the latest offer and developments, it shared similar sentiments.   

“One of the PSA’s main concerns is the well-planned onslaught on collective bargaining by the custodian of collective bargaining in our country, namely government itself. Government approached the 2021 public service salary negotiations with a closed wallet. It is proposing to public servants to pay their own 1.5%-salary increase from their own pay progression, thereby offering no real wage increase.   

“The PSA declared a dispute, invoked dispute resolution remedies and is ready to follow its members’ mandate to ensure a fair salary increase. In utilising legal remedies at its disposal, the PSA will continue to lead labour in SA by being principled and strong,” said spokesperson Reuben Maleka.  

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo said its national executive was discussing the matter and a resolution would be communicated in due time. 

Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu on Monday pleaded with unions who had walked out of the talks to return to the negotiating table. He described the inability to reach an agreement as a crisis that needed to be averted urgently. 

Mchunu was confident unions would accept the offer. “In our view, this is a reasonable offer that we have been able to make. We may not say it is all that the unions were looking for, but it would be extremely hard for us to say this is very little amid the difficulties in [the economy].”

Stakeholders are on Friday expected to meet to allow unions who were not part of the facilitation and those who have not concluded their mandate to do so. 

Probed on what would happen next should the unions fail to come on board, Mchunu said: “We would rather wait until we cross that bridge. Our heads are working. That does not mean we're sleeping.”

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