The Public Servants Association (PSA) said on Friday that it would start preparations for industrial action next week if government does not offer a favourable way forward on the public sector wage dispute.
Reuben Maleka, PSA spokesperson, said that, despite the association having declared a dispute, it had made every effort to engage with the employer during the conciliation process on Thursday regarding the salary proposal tabled to other unions.
He said the PSA had also stressed to the employer that the matter should not be dragged to the courts, thereby preventing PSA members from embarking on strike action and further frustrating them, as they had not yet been paid last year’s salary increases.
“In short, the employer argued that the majority parties were still engaged in negotiations when the PSA declared a dispute. The employer requested 10 days to submit its arguments in writing. The PSA strongly objected to the time required by the employer to do this.
“We indicated that two days were enough. The employer will be given two days to respond to the PSA’s reply,” said Maleka.
The PSA filed the union’s dispute on May 11.
As a result, during the conciliation hearing on Thursday this week, government – as the employer – refused to deliberate orally with the PSA and requested approval to submit its arguments in writing. Government said the PSA’s declaration of a dispute was premature, since the majority of the unions were still engaged in negotiations.
Maleka said this request by government was another delaying tactic, adding that it had given an “inferior” argument.
“This is a clear demonstration that the employer is afraid to engage with the PSA in a fair negotiation process for the benefit of workers and would rather manage negotiations with weaker unions under facilitation,” said Maleka.
He added that public service negotiations and the future of collective bargaining were under serious threat because of the employer and friendly unions that were willing to exclude the PSA from negotiations, “thereby compromising public servants’ conditions of services and improved salaries”.
Maleka said the parties should resolve their dispute within 30 days of the conciliation process from the date the matter was referred for that dispute.
“The above time frame expires on June 11 2021, irrespective of whether or not a decision is made on the jurisdictional ruling or whether or not the employer is willing to submit its argument by that date.
“If the matter isn’t resolved within this time frame, a certificate of non-resolution must be issued by the conciliating commissioner, which then entitles the PSA to embark on industrial action,” said Maleka.
City Press spoke to a public sector wage negotiating joint mandating committee member, who said: “The PSA is aggrieved by the route they themselves took of lodging a dispute.
“In my view, they thought that moving out of facilitation and lodging a dispute would give them political mileage. Yet now they’re not getting any traction from their stance.
“They had their conciliation sitting yesterday [Friday] and nothing positive came out of it. At the sitting, the employer raised issues of jurisdiction and said it couldn’t entertain them while the majority of unions were still in facilitation.
“So they’re all over the show, trying to be relevant and again crying that they aren’t part of the process,” said the member.
The PSA represents more than 235 000 public sector employees.
Maleka said the union was left “irritated” by these further attempts by government, as the employer, to delay the dispute process on the current public sector wage negotiations.