Strike a deal or we strike – Samwu

2011-06-25 17:18

Streets littered with rubbish and overflowing bins may well become a familiar sight again for South Africans as the honeymoon between the ANC and the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) draws to a close.

After backing the ANC to a convincing victory in local ­government elections Samwu has now threatened to cripple services if government fails to accede to its wage demands.

“Chances are we will take to the streets if the employer does not reverse the current offer,” said Samwu spokesperson ­Tahir Seema.

The union (an affiliate of ­labour federation Cosatu), which boasts about 250 000 members, is demanding an 18% increase but government, represented by the South African Local Government Association, is ­offering 6.8%.

This has resulted in a deadlock in wage negotiations.

Tahir said Samwu was willing to lower its original demand but union members would never accept the government’s ­current offer.

It is not the first time that Samwu and the ANC government have been at loggerheads.

It took the intervention of President Jacob Zuma to avert a major Samwu strike before the May 18 local government elections, when the union complained about what it described as “continuous attacks” on its leaders and members.

Samwu also vociferously opposed the Municipal Systems Amendment (cadre deployment) Bill, which seeks to ­depoliticise the appointment of senior officials in local ­councils.

Zuma has since decided not to sign the bill into law pending further consultations with Samwu and other affected stakeholders.

Meanwhile, Cosatu unions and the independent labour caucus, representing a combined total of 1.3 million workers in the public service sector, said there was “great progress” in their salary negotiations with government. According to Cosatu’s Mugwena Maluleke, an announcement regarding an imminent deal is expected to be made next week.

An independent conflict resolution and wage negotiations facilitator is handling the ­proceedings after a stalemate was reached last month.

Brian Currin, who has handled wage conflicts in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and the Middle East, was appointed as a facilitator by public sector unions and government. The initial demand was 10% across the board but the workers have since agreed to lower this to 8%. At the time of the declaration of the dispute last month the government’s offer was 5.2%. It now stands at 6%.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) called on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to allocate sufficient ­resources to present a proper revised offer.

Last month Gordhan said government could not afford the 9% increase the 1.3 million public servants are demanding, citing tax revenue that has not recovered since the recession.

But Gretchen Humphries, Fedusa deputy general secretary, said curbing wasteful ­expenditure in the public service was one way of sourcing a ­budget allocation to table a ­revised offer.

“The government has also not yet addressed outstanding issues from 2010 such as ­disputes regarding housing and medical aid allowances, and these issues must be ­included in the negotiations ­going ­forward,” she said.

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