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08 Sep 2004 08:03
The government’s wage offer to public service employees is in line with a commitment to improve the quality of life for all South Africans, Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said on Tuesday.
Public sector unions decided on Monday to embark on industrial action following their rejection of government’s six percent wage increase offer. The first strike action was planned for September 16.
Fraser-Moleketi said in a statement the offer was fair and gave additional benefits to all workers, especially lower paid ones.
“The offer is in line with government’ s commitment to improve the quality of life for all people of South Africa.”
Fraser-Moleketi said the package put on the table by government was a comprehensive one to improve pay, reward performance and provide training.
“Government’s offer takes into account the needs of all public servants, while keeping in line with our mandate from the electorate.”
She added the offer was designed to ensure equitable spend to address issues such as the provision of housing, the implementation of the comprehensive plan to fight HIV/Aids and fighting crime.
“With this background, we as government believe the offer currently on the table is fair and see no need for the any damaging strike action.
The people need our services.”
Education minister Naledi Pandor supported Fraser-Moleketi, saying government’s latest offer to teachers was reasonable and met the demands put on the table by the teacher unions.
“This includes an inflation-beating salary adjustment of 6%, as well as an amount of R500-million to address a long-standing concern about backlogs among educators.”
Pandor said she believed strike action was unnecessary.
She said the allocation of R500-million was a positive affirmation of the role teachers played in the community.
“Teachers must be remunerated at a level that recognises their contribution. When I became minister earlier this year, I committed myself to enhancing the professional status of teachers, and this sum of money is a testament to the respect which this country owes to our teachers,” she said.
Pandor said she remained concerned about the impact a chalk-down would have on pupils preparing for their final matric examinations.
“I am sure all parties appreciate the importance of resolving the impasse long before the examinations start in mid-October.”
She said it was vital that pupils were reassured that exams would proceed as planned and that they should keep focused on preparations.
“To this end we urge the unions and teachers to do all they can to assist in minimising anxiety among learners” .
Pandor has begun meeting with her officials to consider possible contingency plans for any worst case scenario.
Meanwhile, opposition parties have come out in support of the strike action.
Democratic Alliance spokeswoman Helen Zille said the real problem was that “outstanding teachers are grossly underpaid, while poor performers are substantially over-paid”.
However, she warned unions that large wage increases in the public sector were key drivers of cost-push inflation and set an important benchmark for the private sector.
While public sector unions were constantly campaigning for lower interest rates in South Africa, they had to recognise that the first step towards lower rates was lower inflation—“a measure which they have direct control over through their wage negotiations”.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa accused the government of courting civil servants for votes before the election and then discarding them afterwards.
“It is not surprising that certain legitimate expectations were created in the minds of many union members. Now that the elections are over it seems the minister is hell-bent on not appearing to bow to the demands of these unions, irrespective of whether they might have a valid case,” he said.
The Independent Democrats joined the call by demanding more appreciation for teachers.
“It is without doubt that teachers are not valued appropriately in South Africa. This is reflected in their poor working conditions and low wages,” said Lance Greyling, ID’s education spokesperson.
The Secretary-General of the SA Democratic Teachers Union, Thulas Nxesi, said on Tuesday that the Congress of SA Trade Unions strike committee was meeting to sort out applications for marches and brush up on strike regulations.
“They are working towards the September 16 strike and looking at proposals of taking the strike beyond that day,” he said hinting at “rolling mass action” if the government failed to adhere to its demands. - Sapa
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