Public sector wage talks back to square one

2015-03-29 15:00

5% - On Monday, the lowered 4.8% offer got upped slightly to this. By Wednesday, a hike to 5.8% had been put on the table.

10% -  Public sector unions are sticking to this demand for now, after starting talks with a symbolic 15% demand.

The public sector wage talks this week came full circle, with government now finally offering the same 5.8% increase it started with months ago.

The standing public sector wage deal expires on Wednesday, but the new moves seem to show that a deadlock, which could lead to a strike, is not quite at hand yet.

After the official inflation rate earlier this year dropped to 4.4%, the offer, which government calls a “cost of living adjustment”, fell as well.

Lowering a wage offer is unprecedented in the ritualistic to and fro that characterises collective bargaining in South Africa.

On Monday, the lowered 4.8% offer was upped slightly to 5%. By Wednesday, the hike to 5.8% had been put on the table.

Public sector unions are sticking to a 10% demand for now, after starting talks with a symbolic 15% demand.

There are 16 public sector unions representing 1.3?million workers in the top two levels of government – national and provincial.

Teachers, nurses, doctors and police officers make up the bulk of the workforce.

Frikkie de Bruin, general secretary of the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council, also announced, via Twitter, that the state’s offer for a housing allowance stood at R1?100, while the unions were asking for R1?500. At the moment, this allowance is R900. It took a full decade for unions to get it up from R400.

Government has given in to one union demand – that the housing allowance be awarded to both spouses if there are two civil servants living together.

The medical aid subsidy offer stands at 28.5%.

The bargaining council’s inflation-linked wage deals have been between 6.8% and 7% since 2009. But at the same time, more far-reaching agreements were reached around the so-called occupation-specific dispensations, which in effect increased wages throughout the public sector separately from the headline percentage increases.

The current offer probably already strains the increases budgeted for in the national budget review released by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in February.

It made allowance for a 6.6% increase in the wage bill in each of the next three years – which is meant to exclude any sizable new hiring.

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