Cosatu has warned that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s proposed R160.2 billion trim off the public wage bill over three years will set negative precedent and encourage the private sector to walk back on negotiated wage bills with their employees.
Cosatu secretary-general Bheki Ntshalintshali on Thursday expressed concerns during a media briefing to outline the resolutions taken at the union’s three-day central executive committee, which started on Monday.
Ntshalintshali said “government, as the biggest employer in the country, should not be setting such a precedence [of seeking to review the current public service wage agreement, which dates back to 2018] as it will set a negative example to the private sector.
“The private sector is already engaged in a jobs bloodbath and is retrenching workers without any significant supervision. Imagine if the mining sector sees that government is walking back on bargaining council agreements; it would also do likewise,” he said.
In terms of the wage bill agreement reached in 2018, salaries are due to increase up to 7% – or under the consumer price index plus 1% – on April 1, depending on job grade.
However, employer negotiators from National Treasury and the department of public service and administration on Tuesday told unions that government was unable to afford the increases and proposed a review of the wage agreement, said Cosatu deputy president Mike Shingange.
He maintained that the increases would go ahead as agreed or Cosatu would seek legal recourse.
“The agreement currently in place is a signed and valid document, and National Treasury cannot just come and force these changes on us. Should it try and make changes, we will seek legal avenues to resolve the matter,” he said.
Cosatu leadership in attendance were all in agreement that the announcement by Mboweni not only broke the trust between government and workers, but it also meant that workers would resort to year-on-year wage agreements instead of longer-term wage agreements with government.
According to National Treasury, in its management of public service wage bill document presented before the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council, dated February 25, “civil servants’ wages have grown by about 40% over the past 12 years”.
Although there have been repeated cautions in national budgets in recent years that the public wage bill needs to be curbed as national debt continues to climb, Mboweni’s announcement on Wednesday has been to date the clearest signal of intent.
The minister said he believed the labour movement and National Treasury would “find each other” on the subject, but Cosatu took a combative stance, saying that treasury has already made up its mind and there is no space for negotiations.