Johannesburg - Public sector wage talks have had a rocky start with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) accusing Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba of undermining the negotiating process on Thursday.
Deputy general secretary December Mavuso complained that Gigaba jumped the gun in his medium-term budget last week, when he announced government would ask unions to temper their demands in line with the weak economy.
“We are disturbed by what Gigaba said, just a few days after demands were tabled, instead of responding to the PSCBC (Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council resolutions),” he said.
He added that the “provocation… has the potential of creating a serious problem”.
Nehawu, trade union federation Cosatu's largest affiliate, held a press conference in Johannesburg following a national executive committee meeting.
Unions in the public sector tabled demands for wage increases of 10% to 12% and want government to sign a one-year agreement with about 1.3 million civil servants. Their other demands include abolishing salary levels 1-4, a housing allowance increase to R2 500 and the lifting of the moratorium on filling vacancies.
Gigaba warned in his budget speech last week that remuneration for government employees has reached 35.3% of consolidated expenditure, which poses a “fiscal risk”. He begged unions to act in the “public interest” at a difficult time financially for the country.
Nehawu dismissed this call and pointed to Auditor General Kimi Makwetu’s report released on Wednesday, which showed irregular expenditure in national, provincial and government entities rose to R45.6bn in 2016/2017.
“Workers are not stupid, communities are not stupid, we can’t be blackmailed, we are going to fight if it comes to a crunch,” said Mavuso.
Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha cautioned against ANC leaders in government trying to reach a political solution in the wage talks with their labour ally Cosatu, whose affiliates represent more than 50% of workers in the public sector.
“We fought very hard for bargaining processes. We don’t need political interventions.”
Nehawu advised Gigaba against granting public service middle managers 0% increases, as they constitute a big slice of the union’s membership.
Saphetha said: “... if he’s so genuine, must cut his own salary."
The mini budget outlines government’s plans for a public sector wage bill increase of 7.3% for the next three years.
In 2015, government and unions agreed to a 7% pay hike, plus a 1% increase for the next two years The negotiations period was stormy, with unions withdrawing and threatening to strike several times.
As part of their wage demands, Cosatu affiliates in the public sector want the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) to consider a housing scheme which will provide civil servants with home loans.
Research undertaken by unions showed that 75% of government employees do not own their own homes with many falling into the “missing middle” category, where they earn over the threshold to qualify for an RDP home but too little to apply for a mortgage at a commercial bank.
Nehawu requested an urgent meeting with the Government Employee Pension Fund, the PIC’s main client, which controls R1.67trn in assets on behalf of 1.3 million civil servants.
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