Public sector unions split over stalled wage talks

The Cosatu- and Saftu-affiliated unions say they will serve the employer a strike notice next week. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

The united front last year of public sector unions has fractured, with Fedusa unions planning on returning to the negotiating table while Cosatu and Saftu-affiliated unions are readying for strike action.

Speculation that public sector unions are weak and divided is rife after the Fedusa-affiliated unions decided to join fresh rounds of negotiations for the year 2023 while their Cosatu and Saftu counterparts are resolute that the outstanding wage matters of 2022 cannot be swept under the carpet.

Without Fedusa, the Cosatu and Saftu public sector affiliates addressed the media on Thursday to outline their programme of action. Despite numerous demonstrations and pickets last year by the unions, the government (as employer) will not accede to their demand for a 10% increase and the wage negotiations remain deadlocked. They believe that the double digit increase is more justified than ever given the high inflation rate, and the rising costs of food and other basic living necessities. 

The unions have confirmed a new wave of strikes in the public sector as they feel that the government has failed to meet their demands since 2020. “We will on the 22nd of February 2023 serve the employer with the notice for a strike action as we are of the view that the employer is not interested in resolving this dispute. We have resolved to rally our collective might to push the employer to improve the rejected offer and will use everything in our power to register our disdain to the government’s attitude,” reads their statement.

The unions are planning a full-blown strike, meaning a total withdrawal of labour across the public sector.

The Fedusa-affiliated unions say it is time to move on and have put their trust in the public services bargaining council to deal with the employer. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

Unions further rejected a call to participate in a special council meeting called for the 17th of February by the employer. They say the special council meeting is being called to undermine the resolutions and legitimate mandate of the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC). According to them, the process is just a tick-box exercise further justifying government’s meagre offer before the upcoming budget speech to be tabled by the finance minister next week. 

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“This is a total erosion of the PSCBC and there is no offer that can be negotiated outside the collective mandate of our members. That has never happened. To show our dissatisfaction, we will picket outside the National Assembly when the finance minister will be delivering his speech and we will also mobilise other members to do the same outside the offices of the national treasury in Pretoria on the 22nd of February,’’ says December Mavuso, deputy general secretary of Nehawu.

During his state of the nation address, the president declared a state of disaster to deal adequately with the current energy crisis and other measures to resuscitate the economy. The unions say that while they sympathise with government on the energy crisis and the strategy to deal with it, it cannot be used as an excuse to hold back on paying workers decent wages.

“We have resolved as Cosatu and demanded the state of disaster should be declared in order to mobilise and harness resources to deal with Eskom. We support that, however that cannot be utilised as the reason to make workers worse off. That cannot be an excuse. We might as well support those who are challenging the government in court on the state of disaster,” says Simon Hlungwani, president of Denosa and the Joint Mandatory Committee convener of the Cosatu public service unions.

Meanwhile, Fedusa released a statement to explain why they have decided to join fresh rounds of negotiations for the year 2023. “While the demands that members tabled before the government have not been met, that, with other outstanding matters including the reneged on last leg of the 2018 wage agreement, members of Fedusa public sector unions strongly feel that it is time to move on. Fedusa public sector unions have not abandoned our deadlock of 2022/23 but have rather placed our trust in the PSCBC process to address the employer’s intransigent behaviour over the last few years as opposed to further industrial actions. Unions do not want to prejudice our members any further for the 2023/24 round of negotiations.”

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