No 'peanuts', thanks - Local government wage dispute hits bump as talks with labour break down

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SAMWU accuses the City of Cape Town of lacking commitment in dealing with firefighters' concerns. Photo by Misheck Makora
SAMWU accuses the City of Cape Town of lacking commitment in dealing with firefighters' concerns. Photo by Misheck Makora
Misheck Makora
  • The South African Local Government Association said the South African Municipal Workers' Union was no longer interested in continuing wage negotiations.
  • SALGA said it was committed to continuing order and service delivery in spite of the dispute.
  • SAMWU said it would not allow SALGA to use the pandemic as an excuse to underpay municipal workers.

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU) both announced on Monday that they had filed dispute papers on Friday after they could not break a deadlock with unions in local government wage negotiations.

This comes after the final round of wage negotiations under the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) - which were scheduled for last week Thursday and Friday - ended as SAMWU announced that it had no interest in continuing the process.

Before the breakdown of talks on Friday, SAMWU said its members demanded a R4 000 salary increase across the board, and a sectoral minimum wage of R15 000.

The bargaining council proposed a three-year wage agreement, a 4% salary increase in the first year and with projected CPI minus 1% in the other years.

The dispute papers were filed in terms of section 74 of the Labour Relations Act, which provides for a strike or a lockout in the event of a dispute in wage negotiation among workers whose work constitutes essential services.

SALGA said in a statement that the declaration of the deadlock in the municipal wage talks by SAMWU came after rounds of negotiations between the parties, which culminated in the issuing of a facilitator's proposal.

"SALGA noted SAMWU latest position with a great deal of disappointment as it genuinely believed that there was potential that the negotiations could reach an agreement," the statement said.

SALGA said it opted for a section 74 referral due to the fact that all municipalities perform the designated essential services.

"Employees in the designated essential services are prohibited from participating in strike action in terms of the Labour Relations Act. In these circumstances, the dispute can only be resolved through interest arbitration as opposed to strike action," the statement said.

SALGA committed to maintaining order and said service delivery would not be interrupted. The association added that financial sustainability of municipalities would be its main priority as government continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In its own statement, SAMWU said it had also filed its papers to the SALGBC declaring a dispute, opening the door for a dispute-resolution mechanism. The union maintained that SALGA was responsible for the collapse of the negotiations.

"They have, from the onset, negotiated in bad faith, telling workers that their principals have mandated them to not give workers an increase that is above inflation and workers' benefits that are linked to salaries should be frozen," said the statement.

SAMWU said SALGA could not argue that municipal workers are essential service workers when it suits them, when they were denied a Covid-19 essential services allowance afforded to other categories of essential service workers.

"When these negotiations began, a strike action was the last thing on our minds; we thought parties, especially the employer body, would come sober-minded with the aim of ensuring that these negotiations are concluded timeously without the need for a strike," the union said.

The SAMWU statement said SALGA could not use Covid-19 as an excuse to give workers a 2.8% salary increase, which the union termed as "peanuts". The union added that municipal workers should not be used as scapegoat when workers demand decent increases.

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