Wage talks continue through the night

Technical committees continued negotiations throughout Monday night in an attempt to resolve the impasse between public-sector unions and government on wage negotiations.

On Monday a full sitting of the Public-Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) took place at the government’s request but the government made no new offer. By early evening the council tasked smaller committees consisting of union and government negotiators to try and come up with ways to break the deadlock.

Four committees — on the general public service, on health and welfare, on education, and on safety and security — would discuss issues to be negotiated in those fields.

”Smaller teams will engage each other through the night so by the time we reconvene tomorrow [Tuesday] we can have a framework which we can use a point of departure for further negotiations,” said Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) public-sector union spokesperson Don Pasquallie.

He confirmed that government had not upped its 6% wage increase offer.

Chris Kloppers of the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie, speaking on behalf of the Independent Labour Caucus, said the breaking up into smaller technical committees did not mean that different deals for different public-sector workers were on the table.

”I don’t think there will be dissent between the different sectors,” he said.

Lewis Rabkin, spokesperson for the Department of Public Service and Administration, said the government was happy with the technical team discussions.

”They worked late into the night. The meeting was constructive. Progress has been made but we are going back to the bargaining chamber around 2pm today,” he told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday morning.

Patrick Craven, spokesperson for Cosatu, said while negotiations would continue, ”as it stands now” the strike was set to go ahead on Friday.

”We are obviously happy because there is a engagement going forward, the process is moving forward and obviously it indicates there is a possibility of reaching a agreement in a very short time,” he said.

Success Mataitsane, general secretary of the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers, was sceptical that the technical teams would succeed.

”I think the only reason the government has called for the smaller committees is because they have a revised offer that is so ridiculously low that they would not give it in the full council meeting,” he said.

The full PSCBC would meet again at 2pm on Tuesday to discuss the outcome of the technical teams’ work.

Earlier on Monday the talks almost collapsed when the government said it would refer its dispute with essential-service workers to arbitration.

”We don’t want any arbitration. If there is to be arbitration, it must be something that has to be agreed to by all parties. So even that issue is becoming an obstacle for the real negotiations,” said South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) general secretary Thulas Nxesi.

The issue was not resolved but the government and union negotiators decided to continue talks.

Previous talks in the bargaining council failed with the government’s offer fixed at a 6% wage increase while the unions’ demand was 12%.

Public sector unions have said they would take joint strike action on June 1. – Sapa

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