Unions warn Godongwana is negotiating public wage in Parly, as MTBPS allows 3% hike

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Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana tabling the 2022 Medium-term Budget Policy Statement.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana tabling the 2022 Medium-term Budget Policy Statement.
Netwerk24: Jaco Marais
  • Negotiator for the Cosatu-bloc of unions, Simon Hlungwani said it was unfortunate that the finance minister tabled the 3% in Parliament but did not formally tell labour. 
  • The PSA, which is striking next Monday, said it was "disgusted" with Godongwana's decision to "implement a nonexistent and rejected salary offer for public servants".
  • Sadtu said Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana's reiteration of the wage offer left the union with little hope that something positive will come out of the protracted wage talks.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

With a public service strike over wages just days away, unions have railed against Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana formalising the implementation of the 3% wage increase in his Medium-term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS).

Unions warned that Godongwana's decision was akin to the government negotiating wages through Parliament. However, the minister has maintained that there was no room in the fiscus for the government to offer more.

Godongwana tabled his MTBPS before Parliament on Wednesday. In it, he pencilled in an average 3.1% growth in the public service wage bill in the medium-term expenditure framework.

This is in line with the decision by Acting Minister of Public Service and Administration Thulas Nxesi to invoke section 5 of the Public Service Act and unilaterally implement a 3% wage increase in the ongoing wage talks at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council. Unions' demands range between 5% and 10%.

The Public Servants' Association (PSA) served the government with a seven-day strike notice on Monday and the Cosatu bloc of unions has declared a dispute that will be mediated in the PSCBC next Monday.

Public Service and Administration director-general Yoliswa Makhasi wrote to CCMA director Cameron Mogajane, calling for his intervention.

READ | ANALYSIS | Godongwana does the seemingly impossible. Now SOEs must do the same

Ahead of this MTBPS, Godongwana said the 3% was part of an offer that was tabled and considered at the PSCBC by unions during the talks, and therefore could be implemented. 

During his speech, Godongwana said: "[T]he offer on the table is in the best interest of the fiscus and public service workers. Implementing it does not undermine the collective bargaining process. We believe that the facilitation process has helped all parties get to this point. Therefore, the spending estimates we are tabling today include this amount. This offer will be implemented through the payroll system, and backdated to April 2022."

So far, only the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) has received a mandate to accept the 3% wage offer. Even then, the union accepted the offer with a heavy heart, saying it needed to ensure a stable footing to go into the next round of negotiations to score greater increases in the future. 

Negotiator for the Cosatu bloc of unions, Simon Hlungwani, said it was unfortunate that the minister tabled the 3% in Parliament while the employer had not yet come back to tell labour that they want to return the offer to labour at the PSCBC.

"We saw how he struggled to negotiate with parliamentarians and that is because it was a completely wrong platform to be negotiating public sector wage increases on. We encourage the government, as the employer, to come to the conciliation set down for 31 October and 1 November with the 10% that we remain resolute demanding. We welcome the commitment to bring back the 3% but he must look for more to meet our demands," said Hlungwani.

The PSA said in a statement that it was "disgusted" by Godongwana's decision to "implement a nonexistent and rejected salary offer for public servants", adding that the government of the day blatantly ridiculed the fundamental principle of the Constitution.

"The minister further completely failed to appreciate the plight of public servants who last received a real salary increase in 2019 as a result of the government's failure to implement the last leg of the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council Resolution 1/2018.

"The minister's notion that the offer amounts to a 7.5% increase is far from the truth and misleading, as only 3% is pensionable and the cash gratuity will cease 31 March 2023. This will be devastating to public servants, leaving them with R1 000 less cash in their pocket," the PSA statement said.

The statement said the minister's "silence" on severe chronic staff shortages in the public service contradicted his claim that the government would create an enabling environment for growth, provision of basic services, and the rule of law.

"These staff shortages have caused paralysis and an inability to render basic services to citizens. Public servants are under constant attack by members of the public, demanding basic services, which they cannot provide as posts are vacant, and buildings and vehicles are not maintained," the statement said.

The PSA said, with fewer and underpaid teachers, understaffed police and correctional facilities, and overwhelmed healthcare workers, South Africa could not hope to improve service delivery standards.

"While the increased budget for infrastructure development should be appreciated, the PSA is extremely concerned that corrupt individuals are ready to misuse these funds, without the intended purpose being fulfilled," the statement said. 

READ | As govt looks set to force through 3% hike, Godongwana hints at wage talk reform

Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said in a secretariat statement that Godongwana's reiteration of the wage offer left the union with little hope that something positive will come out of the protracted wage talks.

"We reiterate our position that any development state will only be realised with motivated and well-paid public servants. Government must be seized with all attempts to protect collective bargaining and work hard to resolve issues of workers in the PSCBC," said Maluleke.

Maluleke said Sadtu is committed to supporting all attempts by anyone who seeks to resolve the impasse, even if it must be resolved by roping in the CCMA to break the wage deadlock.

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