The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has accused government and the National Treasury of using delaying tactics, largely informed by the Treasury’s “neoliberal fiscal framework approach of wage freeze and budget cuts”.
Zola Saphetha, Nehawu general secretary, said the Treasury was punishing workers when it decided to prioritise the country’s ballooning public debt instead of using other initiatives that focus on growth.
Saphetha said government chose to set aside billions of rands in bail-outs which were given to “the ever rising number of the mismanaged state owned entities and overspending by some departments” but tell workers there is no money.
“The Treasury has prioritised containing the public debt by reducing the rate of spending growth rather than accelerating spending on the growth enhancing infrastructure projects to boost job creation as a more sustainable and constructive way to reduce borrowing.
“And year after year, the Auditor-General kept on reporting that at least about 10% of government’s budget is drained by corruption, irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditures,” he said.
After months of negotiations, public sector unions reached a deadlock and entered into a facilitation process with government overseen by the International Labour Organisation. On Sunday, Nehawu convened its national public service collective bargaining forum to receive provincial mandates to deliberate on the current offer made by government.
Nehawu said the latest round of negotiations resulted in the employer making a revised offer. Government agreed to the unions’ demand of a single term from April 1 2021 to March 31 2022.
Government also made a cost of living adjustment that includes a monthly gratuity of R987 to all employees with salary levels one to 12 and a once-off adjustment of the pensionable salary of 1.5% to all public service workers.
On the employees housing scheme, government proposed that the public sector unions review the resolution that established the Government Employees Housing Scheme Advisory Board.
They must agree to the establishment of a Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council consultative forum which should develop a road map towards realising the access of affordable houses by public servants.
Saphetha said government’s decision was an onslaught on workers and collective bargaining. He said the current administration was hell-bent of reversing the serious strides made by workers since 1994.
He added that even though the unions were not happy with the government offer, they would still discuss the latest offer with their members so they can decide whether or not they should “declare a dispute leading to a real fight through a strike” or accept the revised offer within two weeks.
“Given the complex nature of the offer made by government, the union has decided to convene general member meetings across the provinces after which we will convene a national bargaining forum on June 20 to solicit our position regarding the offer. We will then consult other unions inside and outside Cosatu towards comprehensive labour position,” he said.
Saphetha told Nehawu members that the Treasury intended to cut the public wage as follows – R37.8 billion for the 2020/21, R54.9 billion for 2021/22 and R67.5 billion for the 2022/23 financial years.
“While these numbers appear as abstract figures on paper, behind them are real livelihoods of the struggling public service workers, many of whom are now having to stretch every rand that they earn to take care of up to seven and more people in the absence of a comprehensive social security system,” said Saphetha.
“The bargaining forum has noted that the revised offer comes after months of negotiations with the employer using delaying tactics that were largely informed by the posture of the Treasury’s fiscal framework approach of wage freeze and budget cuts.”
Saphetha said Nehawu as a red and fighting union that would neither abandon nor betray its members for any reason.
“This is why we will never sign any agreement that does not have the approval of our members,” said Saphetha.
In an interview with City Press Mugwena Maluleke, the Sadtu general secretary, said the current low inflation level in the country must be taken into account when viewing the offer made by government.
“For example, the highest increase ever given by government was back in 2009 but where was the inflation rate at that point? The interest rates were very high to counter the high inflation. So even the high increase could not counter inflation,” said Maluleke.
He added that at the moment, with the inflation and interest rates at their lowest, a R987 monthly gratuity might make a difference to public servants on levels one to nine who usually receive R300.
He said this new offer was well above the current inflation rate.