Government raises wage offer to unions

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Public servants march to Parliament over public service wage deadlock.
Public servants march to Parliament over public service wage deadlock.
Na'ilah Ebrahim/News24
  • The government has raised its wage offer to trade unions to 7.5%, say unions. 
  • Unions are seeking a mandate from members on whether to sign.
  • Public sector unions remain split with a majority coalition now calling the shots. 
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

The government has improved its wage offer to public servants to 7.5%, increasing the prospects of an early settlement to negotiations, say trade unions.

A coalition of trade unions that constitute a majority in the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) held a briefing on Wednesday. The unions are seeking a mandate from their members to adjust their wage demand to 7.5%. They include all public sector unions affiliated to the Federation of Trade Unions of SA (Fedusa) and the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).

The unions had already adjusted their original demand of 10% to 8% a week ago.

The coalition, which has a 53.9% majority in the chamber, does not include unions that embarked on an illegal strike earlier this month. The strike was over dissatisfaction with the previous round of wage negotiations for 2022/23. This dispute also resulted in the striking unions boycotting the earlier rounds of the 2023/24 wage talks.

The general secretary of Sadtu, Mugwena Maluleke, said the striking unions had rejoined the chamber last week and attempted to disrupt the new round of talks. Said Maluleke: 

It was unprofessional, uncomradely and unfriendly. But attempts to block the presentation (by the employer) failed.

A decision taken by the majority coalition will be binding on all labour constituents. Should a settlement be reached, negotiations, which will cover the two years beginning 1 April, will have been settled in record time. 

The striking unions ended their dispute with the government last week, but did not win any increase on the 3% that was previously offered and implemented last November. In return for ending the dispute, the striking unions, which included the National Education and Health Workers Union (Nehawu), the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and the SA Police Workers Union (Sapu), had hoped to re-open 2022/23 wage talks to win new concessions. This was refused by both the majority coalition and government negotiators. 

READ | Public sector strike ends as govt, unions reach settlement

The 7.5% is well over the 4.5% increase in wages that was written into the February budget, raising concerns that SA's plans to reduce the budget deficit will be affected. In February, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana made it clear that the 4.5% was not the final number but had been pencilled in to avoid pre-empting the wage negotiations.

Head of the budget office, Edgar Sishi, said earlier this month that to the extent that the public sector wage bill overshoots what is affordable to the government, government departments will need to compromise on the headcount for non-critical employees. Sishi said that public sector wages remained the number one fiscal risk to the budget.

*This story has been corrected to reflect that the government proposal is for a two year agreement and not a three year agreement.

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