Johannesburg - According to the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), trade unions and government are close to reaching a public sector wage deal. However, labour representatives maintain they remain far apart and insist they’re edging closer to a strike.
A two-day meeting in Midrand concluded in the early hours of Friday morning without any agreement being reached.
The public sector wage deal for about 1.3 million civil servants lapsed on March 31, and negotiations have been ongoing since October.
PSCBC general secretary Frikkie de Bruin told Fin24 by phone that there is no outcome yet, and the parties have spent the past two days finalising softer issues such as housing.
“I don’t think we’re far apart, I think we’re very close.”
De Bruin added that unions’ earlier threats of a strike and a public sector shutdown could be seen as the parties trying to “reposition” themselves ahead of the two days of talks this week.
But the Public Servants Association (PSA), which represents 238 000 civil servants, denied that unions are any closer to reaching a deal.
“We are in dispute mode, because we don’t find joy in this process, it’s just games,” PSA deputy general manager Tahir Maepa told Fin24.
Maepa said that the new team of negotiators, under newly appointed Minister of Public Service and Administration Ayanda Dlodlo, spent Wednesday and Thursday disputing the original wage offer tabled towards the end of 2017.
Unions are demanding wage increases of CPI + 3% for junior government employees, and CPI + 2% for mid-level employees. They also want a one-year wage agreement. The Bureau of Economic Research predicts CPI (inflation) will be 5.2% in 2018.
Government’s opening offer was CPI increases for junior and mid-level government employees on levels 1-10, and a hike of CPI -1 for senior government employees level 11-12 and a three-year agreement.
Mood of members
When asked whether this meant a strike could be on the cards, Maepa responded: "Yes definitely - from the look of things, if I had to judge from the mood of our members… they are agitated."
Government faces a juggling act in containing the public sector wage bill which accounts for 35.2% of consolidated spending, according to the 2018 budget review, while avoiding a government shutdown a year before elections in 2019.
De Bruin said another meeting is scheduled for Monday afternoon and various bilateral meeting will be held on Friday, including between the various unions who hold different positions on their demands.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union convened a bargaining forum with its provincial representatives in Braamfontein on Friday to decide on a way forward.
The seven public sector unions affiliated to trade union federation Cosatu have blamed Dlodlo for "delaying tactics" and have also threatened industrial action.
Dlodlo on Thursday denied this, and appealed for patience from government employees and the public in order to reach an "amicable settlement".
Public service and administration spokesperson Mava Scott said they are awaiting feedback from the government negotiators about the two days of talks, and the PSCBC will issue a statement later on Friday.