Union 'appalled' by Mchunu's attempt to gain public sympathy amid public sector wage deadlock

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Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu.
Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu.
  • On Monday, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu put out a call to the public to provide proposals on how to resolve the deadlock in wage negotiations.
  • The PSA, which represents 235 000 workers, has accused the minister of undermining the collective bargaining process.
  • The PSA has said solutions can only be found jointly with labour in the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council forum.

Government is undermining the wage negotiation process with unions by negotiating through the media, according to the Public Servants Association (PSA).

Earlier on Monday, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu put out a call to the public to provide proposals on how to resolve the deadlock in wage negotiations.

Parties on the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) met on Friday to discuss the wage agreement for 2021-'22. Government had initially tabled an offer of a zero percent increase, amid the "bad" state of the economy given the Covid-19 pandemic, Fin24 previously reported. Unions, however, wanted an inflation-related increase plus 4%.

Following Friday's discussions, no agreement could be reached, with the PSA indicating it was "frustrated and utterly disappointed" with government's revised salary offer. The PSA represents 235 000 workers in the public sector. The PSA said it intended to lodge a dispute and has told its members to prepare for industrial action.

Prior to negotiations, Mchunu called a press briefing, where he said the government was not out to "win" in the process. He said the country should win. He added that a balanced outcome should be reached.

But the PSA has criticised the minister for negotiating through the media, which, the union said, was "disrespectful and undermining" labour and the negotiation process. "The Public Servants Association is appalled by tactics deployed by the minister of public service and administration to gain public sympathy for government's quandary related to public servants' overdue salary increases," the PSA said in a statement on Monday.

"Government is the author of its own demise in this matter and is now requesting the public to get involved and resolve its self-created problem. This is disingenuous and malicious," the PSA said.

"It was not the public who advised government to spend state funds fruitlessly and to fund corruption, or to use public funds for frivolous litigation by subjecting public servants to unwarranted disciplinary action."

The PSA said solutions to the deadlock can only be found jointly with labour in the PSCBC forum.

It further accused government of making irregular appointments of unqualified staff, which led to further wastages, maladministration and service-delivery collapse.

"Government must take accountability for its actions and stop involving the public when it needs a scapegoat to avoid answering for the dismal state of the economy."

Old Mutual Investment Group chief economist Johann Els, however, noted that government's fight against corruption has been going on for a few years already.

"I am pretty sure some corruption is still happening but because of the focus on that, it is nowhere near the corruption we might have had five, eight, 10 years ago," Els said. "I do not think it is a strong argument of the unions to say they have to pay for corruption. The corruption fight is happening – now the next phase is reducing other wastages," he said.

Els added that public sector wages are among the most expensive in the world.

Investec economist Lara Hodes similarly noted that the current government has clamped down heavily on corruption. Hodes said South Africa's wage bill as a share of GDP was five percentage points higher than the average of the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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