Union wage delay ‘pure coincidence’

It is pure coincidence that a postponed labour meeting to decide on the public-service dispute will coincide with the start of the African National Congress (ANC) policy conference on Wednesday, said the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Sunday.

Cosatu president Willie Madisha said there will be no wage deal with the government until at least Wednesday.

“No unions will be signing any agreement with government until they have completed the process of consulting with their membership. The consultations will continue over the next three days,” he said at the Public Service Coordination Bargaining Council in Pretoria.

Madisha was speaking after a meeting between Cosatu-affiliated and non-Cosatu public-service unions. He said the unions will caucus on Wednesday night, but that it is pure coincidence that the time coincides with the start with the ANC conference.

“The problem we have is a labour one; it is between us as a trade-union movement and the government, not the ANC per se as an organisation. Of course the ANC is the leader of government, but it must be seen as a labour-employer problem,” he stated.

It is understood that the labour caucus was specifically arranged for Wednesday night to give the Cosatu leadership a chance to attend the policy conference, and for members of the National Health and Allied Workers’ Union to attend their national conference.

Cracks show in strike unity

In the meantime, unions said the strike will continue until then, even if some teachers are now enjoying school holidays.

“Schools have been closed in the inland provinces, but in the coastlands, schools are not closed. The strike has not been suspended,” said Thulas Nxesi, South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) general secretary.

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), however, has announced its withdrawal from the strike, South African Broadcasting Corporation news reported on Sunday.

The union’s leadership was not happy with the latest offer but members felt it was time to resume classes, the report said. “As far as strike action is concerned, our mandate is that we go back to school, the strike comes to an end, and we are going to suspend it,” said Naptosa president Dave Balt. “We certainly are not stopping the potential of industrial action. It is the suspension of the strike as far as Naptosa is concerned.”

Naptosa has more than 43 000 state-employed members and a further 6 000 school governing body, college council and independent school members — a total of almost 50 000 members.

On Sunday night, the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) hit out at Cosatu-affiliated unions, saying they were being held “hostage”, Business Day reported on Monday. Hospersa president Gavin Moultrie said Sadtu was “intimidating” other unions and preventing them from signing the government’s wage offer.

He said Hospersa had already suspended its strike action on Wednesday and described the government’s latest offer as “fantastic”.

Final offer

On Friday, the government tabled what it called its final wage proposal, which includes a 7,5% wage increase. It also includes increases in the housing and medical-aid contributions from the employer, as well as a proposal on new salary scales for certain professionals in the public service.

The government has given unions 21 days to respond to the offer.

Shortly after the tabling of the new, final offer, unions said they were not ready to sign the offer immediately, but indicated that they would discuss it in the meeting on Sunday.

Earlier on Sunday, Fraser-Moleketi arrived at the council. She was forced to agree to meet with union leaders later as not all were present at the council’s offices in Centurion, south of Pretoria. She was expected to return and meet union leaders on Sunday night, but the meeting did not take place.

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