The waiting game: Public unions to choose between deal or dispute

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Unions are split on whether to sign a public service wage agreement.
Unions are split on whether to sign a public service wage agreement.
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  • Some unions have accepted government's public wage offer, while others rejected the proposal and others still are weighing their options.
  • The South African Democratic Teachers' Union said it has accepted the latest offer from government.
  • The Public Servants' Association said it has subjected the offer to its members to decide by Wednesday.

The Public Servants' Association, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) and the South African Police Union have rejected the latest wage offer from government, while the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU), with more than 250 000 members. has accepted it.

Public Servants' Association spokesperson Reuben Maleka said: "We have subjected the offer to members to decide. We have until 14 July."

Unions are likely to canvas membership on the next step: whether they should strike among codes of public service where this is possible.

Last week, government offered public sector unions a new wage deal, which includes a monthly cash allowance of R1 000 and a 1.5% wage hike, with a view to find an agreement on the payment of a salary adjustment for employees for the financial year 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022.

Department of Public Service and Administration spokesperson Kamogelo Mogotsi confirmed to Fin24 that a majority of unions will need to accept the offer in order for the deal and a resolution to take effect.

The eight unions involved in talks are the Public Servants' Association, POPCRU, SADTU, the SA Police Union (SAPU), the Democratic Nurses Organisation of SA (DENOSA), the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (NAPTOSA) and the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA (HOSPERSA).

POPCRU spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said the union would communicate the decision on the offer after its national office bearers meet. As South African Police Service (SAPS) members constitute an essential service in terms of the Labour Relations Act, they cannot go on strike.

During a World Bank panel discussion on South Africa's economic outlook, University of Pretoria associate professor in the Department of Economics, Heinrich Bohlmann, said in the broader picture of South Africa's economic recovery, the public service wage bill cannot be ignored.

"There has been talk of reducing the public service wage bill. But unions are not going to take the fall for this reduction in spending if they believe that top management are behind the mismanagement and the waste," said Bohlmann.

He added that fiscal consolidation remains a critical part of getting South Africa on track for a meaningful recovery, but there was a need to ensure that the public service also delivered the desired outcomes - on top of being affordable.

"While government's public service is bloated compared to other economies, it is the productivity of our public service that should also of concern. Solutions including technology that will assist but not replace public servants will need to be considered," Bohlmann said.

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