5.8% wage offer is fair, says state as unions embark on protests

2015-04-16 18:00

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The government has issued a communiqué to civil servants today in an effort to reassure them that the 5.8% wage offer the government has made to public sector unions is “fair and reasonable”. This came after Cosatu-affiliated unions threatened to down tools over the state’s refusal to make a better wage offer.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union, National Education Health and Allied Workers Union, Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa – all of which are affiliated to trade union federation Cosatu – are the four main unions that will embark on a protest to the national treasury offices in Pretoria next Thursday to demand better wages.

But despite the majority of unions being unhappy at the manner in which the wage negotiations – which are taking place at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council in Centurion – have progressed, the government said the negotiations had seen a number of improvements in wages and other benefits for civil servants.

According to the communiqué released by the department of public service and administration, the government employee medical aid subsidy had been improved from 17.6% to 28.5% for all public service employees and an agreement had been reached to assess the government medical aid model.

Other successes include:

» An agreement to investigate the feasibility of a pensioner dispensation in respect of the housing allowance and review medical aid assistance;

» The introduction of three days for paternity leave for public service employees;

» Family responsibility leave has been improved from two to three days’ leave for public service employees who have children with severe special needs;

» The government would develop a policy on recognition of prior learning for public service employees;

» A study would be conducted on the feasibility of a bursary scheme for children of public service employees; and

» The housing allowance was improved by 33.3%, from R900 to R1200.

But this has not made the unions happy and they have threatened to stage lunch-time pickets, demonstrations and the march to the national treasury next week.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union’s Bereng Soke said after the government negotiators declared a dispute last week the process moved to conciliation, and the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council facilitator was meeting unions independently to find a solution.

“We are happy with these other victories on agreements on medical aid and leave, but we are not happy on the most important issues of wage increases and the housing scheme. This is why on April 23 we are pulling all members in Gauteng to march to the office of the department of public service and administration and the national treasury in support of these two demands because we can’t compromise on them,” said Soke.

He said they were hoping other independent unions, including the Public Service Association, South African Police Union, Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa, and the National Professional Teachers Association of South Africa, would join their and demonstrations at various departments.

“The employer tabled a 5.8% [increase] when we started seven months ago. They then went down to 5% and down to 4.8% and now they are up again to 5.8%. But we’ve moved from 15% to 10%. The employer is provoking our workers and members to abandon their workplace and go on strike,” said Soke.

But the government has said that it couldn’t offer more than 5.8% because this would force it to borrow more money to pay for salaries – a move it said would have detrimental effects on service delivery and infrastructure development.

“The state as employer remains optimistic that the conciliation process will produce a mutually beneficial outcome and that negotiations will conclude in April. The employer appreciates the patience demonstrated by all public service employees during this period,” the communiqué to staff said, adding that the 5.8% wage increase offer would increase the government wage bill by R37 billion, to R430 billion in the 2015-2016 financial year.

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