Thousands of post office workers are expected to return to work on Monday after agreement was reached between their union, the Posts and Telecommunications Workers Association (Potwa) and Post Office officials early yesterday morning. But an eight-hour consultation between Department of Posts and Telecommunication negotiators and Home Affairs and Communications Minister Stoffel Botha for official approval stoppage.
According to Potwa president Vusi Khumalo, the parties had reached agreement early on Wednesday evening when post office officials indicated they had to discuss the contents of the agreement with the minister. "At about 6pm we had reached a favourable position towards a settlement but then the negotiators on the management side said at this stage they needed ratification from the Minister. "When it (the Minister's reply) came through at about 7pm, he had tragically altered most of the points we had earlier agreed upon and that prolonged the meeting to the early hours of this morning. We waited until about 2 o'clock this morning for the ratification."
According to Potwa, the minister wanted to alter what the union regarded as the two central issues: the agreement reached on pay and rank parity and the issue of the Eastern Cape workers who had been on strike since April. The department had pointed out that before parity could be implemented budget had to be passed in parliament. The issue was resolved when the union suggested that the labour relations expert appointed to work on grievance procedures and the disciplinary code could also work out mechanism for implementing the issue of parity.
At the moment white supervisors have authority over all workers of a lower rank. However black supervisors of the same rank or higher cannot exercise authority over white employees. After protracted negotiations, the parties agreed that pay parity, introduced in commencing salaries, will be extended to other salary scales. The post office also undertook to continue "all reasonable steps to achieve parity in all its facets".
The union and management will the jointly review progress in this regard next April." It was also agreed that those cases where it is alleged Eastern Cape workers had previously been wrongfully dismissed be submitted "and where" the allegations are substantiated, they will be re-employed".
Although the union had demanded a minimum wage of R600, the post office has improved the lowest wage structure from R310 per month to R375 and the highest from R375 to R450 per month for general assistants between grade 1 and 11.
On Tuesday talks were broken off when the parties were on the brink of an agreement after Fatwa negotiators learnt that several union members had been injured in clashes with police at Khotso House, Lekton House and the New Canada railway station outside Soweto.
Other clauses in the agreement are:
- Those workers who are unable to return to work by Monday will be given until September 14 to do so "provided they give a reasonable explanation for such failure".
- Those members who are in detention will be entitled to resume work upon their release, unless they are convicted of a criminal offence for which they are liable for dismissal.
- Dismissed workers will be entitled to apply for re-employment. The applications will be processed within five days.
- Without admitting that members had been harassed, the department gave an assurance that members who returned 'to work would not be harassed.
- No salary will be paid to members for the period of stoppage of work.
The Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International is believed to have played a pivotal role in the resolution of the strike. The PTTI threatened international disruption of South Africa's communication links if a settlement was not reached.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.