Corona be damned: Nehawu insists on marching over civil servant wages

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While president Cyril Ramaphosa may have banned gatherings of more than 100 people in reaction to the coronavirus crisis, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union will go ahead with a march in protest of public sector wage hikes.

Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha told Fin24 on Wednesday morning that the latest discussions with government indicated that the state will renege on public service wage agreements in April, with many public servants who will end up with an "effective zero percent" increase.

In response, Nehawu is pressing ahead with plans to march on 30 March.

Saphetha told Fin24 that at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council discussions, the union rejected government's proposed wage hike offer of CPI plus 0.5% for level one employees. For level 12 employees, for example, wages will only increase by CPI.

He called the offer "a betrayal of the highest level".

Talks are set to continue on Thursday, but Saphetha said if government does not honour the original agreement of 7%, or CPI+ 1% on April 1, the union will be forced to continue with a march at the end of the month. He said the union did not fear a spread of the coronavirus.

"It's an unfortunate situation. But we will not allow our members to die of hunger. We would rather sacrifice ourselves to risks, including this coronavirus. We made a commitment during apartheid to die for the workers of this country, if we must, we continue to do so," Saphetha said.

In February's Budget Speech, Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni announced a proposal to revise the total spending on public wages downward by R160 billion within the medium term, a proposal that unions have called a "declaration of war".

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