Public sector unions all united for better wages

Union leaders during-a press briefing at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council offices in Centurion. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

The public sector unions are planning a nationwide strike on Tuesday next week that will involve essential workers.

Public unions affiliated to Cosatu, Fedusa and Saftu are planning to intensify their actions calling for better wages during a national day of action planned for next week on the 22nd of November in Tshwane. At their joint media briefing today, the first since last month’s collapse of wage negotiations at the public service bargaining council, unions declared that they have felt the employer’s scorn and attempts to undermine them.

The unions feel that Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s remarks on the 3% increase during the mid-term budget speech made light of their situation. “We observed with utter disdain the employer making jokes about how government has assisted – “sibazamile’’ – public servants with the paltry three percent offer,” union leaders say in the statement.

The unions in the public sector are demanding a 10% salary increase across the board while the government has unilaterally implemented its 3% offer after it failed to win the support from the majority of unions after 21 days in the bargaining council.

One of the local teachers in Alexandra township laments this increase. She says she has just received the increase of 3 percent, which backdated seven months came to R3,800. “It is really nothing when you look at it monthly. We are really suffering. Children are demanding. I’m sinking into debts. Electricity and food prices are very high,” says the teacher of 32 years’ service. Due to these difficult conditions, she is now using cooking oil repeatedly until it is dark brown because she can’t afford to buy a new bottle every month.

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Her counterpart from Nehawu who has been working for eight years agrees that the current salary they are earning is not nearly meeting their needs. They want a 10 percent increase which is at least above the inflation rate. “They mustn’t say ‘barezama’ instead they are killing us. The bond has increased. Transport to take kids to school has increased. We can’t afford even basic food stuff such as bread, butter and oil,” he says.

“This is the reason why we are relentless in our wage demands,” says Simon Hlungwani, the convener of the public service unions addressing the media. Reading from the statement, he said: “In addition to the inflation, was the consideration of the interest rate hikes which was increased by 75 basis points in September, taking the repo rate to 6,25 per cent per annum. Interest rate hikes plus inflation have made the cost of living more expensive for public servants, the working class in general and the poor. These are concretely expressed in the increased cost of groceries, the nutritional basket for children, fuel, electricity and commuter transport among other costs.”

Defending the imposed increase during his mid-term budget speech last month, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana simply said it was in the best interest of the fiscus and the public service workers. Unions are taking none of it and instead are calling for all their members to come in numbers to join the national day of action on 22 November at the Treasury offices in Tshwane. Essential workers will be participating in what the unions are calling a show of force to push back the frontiers of government oppression and fight the attempt to reverse the constitutional gains that workers have earned with their blood and sweat.

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