'If they want war...' - public sector unions warn govt of total shutdown

File photo: Thousands of Cosatu members marched through the streets of Johannesburg. (Felix Dlangamandla/Beeld)
File photo: Thousands of Cosatu members marched through the streets of Johannesburg. (Felix Dlangamandla/Beeld)

Public sector unions have sent a strong message to government: come back to the negotiating table to resolve salaries for public sector employees, or face a total shutdown of the public sector if wage demands aren’t met.

Mugwena Maluleke, the convenor of Cosatu unions in the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), said the unions had tabled their consolidated wage demands on October 5, 2017.

"As a reminder, these negotiations began in September 2017. That there is still no settlement, eight months later, shows a clear sign of government’s lack of care as both the employer and provider of public services," Maluleke said.

A shopping list of demands

He said, besides the demands of increases between 10% and 12% for public service employees, the unions were also demanding that housing allowances be increased to R2 500 per month and the delinking of spouses if they both work for the public sector, which would allow both spouses to qualify for housing allowances.

Further, the unions demanded that the same percentages apply for all sectors and that all outstanding issues between government and public service employees be sorted out.

The unions were unhappy with government's offer tabled at the bargaining council in January. It proposed salary hikes of 5.5% for junior and mid-level employees on levels 1-10, and 4.5% for senior government employees on levels 11-12. This would be over a three-year period.

"After this offer from government, organised labour took the offer to members for broad and thorough consultation and mandating," Maluleke said.

"After the mandating process, organised labour came back with the views of tabling revised demands from members, but was frustrated by the change of guard in the form of the Cabinet reshuffle."

'We think they are negotiating in bad faith'

Maluleke said the appointment of a new minister of public service and administration was "the beginning of the circus", with meetings often being postponed and a worse offer being tabled.

He said the change in the government’s negotiation team signaled to the unions that it was not interested in negotiations.

"The last straw that broke the camel’s back, as far as government’s endless delaying tactics are concerned… is the latest letter from government… requesting a further postponement of the negotiations until 3 May this year," he said.

"We view this as anti-union behaviour and a total disregard of the country’s hard-earned collective bargaining rights for workers," he said.

Cosatu's chief wage negotiator, Mike Shingange, said the unions expected government to come back to the negotiating table at 15:00 on Tuesday afternoon.

"We think they are negotiating in bad faith. We think, either the employers are tired of negotiating, or they don’t want to negotiate at all," he said.

"Obviously, if they are not here… hence we’re saying we will start a total shutdown of services. In our view, we think they have declared war on the workers. We don’t have time to play by the book that they have been violating themselves."

Shingange added that "if it is a war they want", the workers would be ready to start picketing and commence with a total shutdown.

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