Public sector union spat deepens as minority coalition rejects government offer

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Public sector workers shout at Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, telling him to go away in an incident last November.
Public sector workers shout at Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, telling him to go away in an incident last November.
Alex Patrick/News24
  • Public sector unions are effectively split down the middle.
  • The majority - just over half - has taken government's 7.5% offer to members for consultation.
  • The minority - just under half - rejected it.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

The rift between trade unions in the public sector deepened on Thursday with the alliance of unions that went on strike, accusing those that did not of being sweetheart unions and of lying to workers about the 7.5% wage offer by the government. 

Public sector unions are now split almost down the middle with the non-strikers, which include all public sector unions affiliated to the Federation of Trade Unions of SA (Fedusa) and Cosatu-affiliated SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) holding 53.9% of votes in the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Chamber (PSCBC) and the rest of Cosatu's public sector unions and others with 46%. 

The slightly smaller, more militant coalition includes the National Education and Health Workers Union (Nehawu); the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru); the Democratic Nurses Union of SA (Denosa); the SA Police Union (SAPU); and other smaller unions. This includes most Cosatu public sector affiliates, except for Sadtu, and unions affiliated with other groups. 

While the Fedusa-Sadtu coalition has approached its members to consult on government's 7.5% wage increase for 2023/24 to reach a settlement, the more militant group said they rejected it, arguing that after the R1 000 cash gratuity is rolled into the baseline of pensionable salaries, the actual increase amounts only to 2.8%. 

The R1 000 (after tax) gratuity was a sweetener paid to public sector workers for the last two years to soften the blow of below-inflation increases. While employees got the extra cash in their pockets, the amount was not included in pensionable salaries. The cash gratuity automatically falls away when a new agreement is signed. 

We want to inform our collective membership and the public servants as a whole that there is no 7.5% real increase offered by the employer at the PSCBC. It is a shameless lie that is sold to the workers by the employer in collaboration with its sweetheart unions. This 7.5% comes from the 4.7% (R14.973 billion) that was already allocated as cash gratuity but this time converted into the salary baseline – _ogether with an additional 2.8% adjustment for 2023/24. In other words, for 2023/24 the employer is basically making an offer of about 2.8% to the public service unions at the PSCBC!
- Nehawu and others

The rift between the striking unions and the government also deepened last week when the majority unions and government refused the minority the opportunity to re-open 2022/23 wage negotiations in the PSCBC. 

READ Government raises wage offer to unions

The minority coalition is adamant that the government had made a binding undertaking to re-open talks on the 2022/23 year in return for ending their illegal strike. The last clause of the settlement agreement "states very clearly that this agreement is binding to all parties", said the unions in a statement. 

"We are now updating our collective membership and the public servants as a whole that once again, the employer has shamelessly refused to negotiate an increment for 2022/23 in line with this binding Settlement Agreement that it has signed," they said.

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