Crunch time for govt wage strike

Trade-union leaders will meet on Wednesday to discuss suspending the public-service strike during the 21 days they have to consider the government’s final offer.

They are to meet at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) in Centurion.

It is understood that the unions discussed the possibility of suspending the strike at a meeting on Sunday, but some wanted more time to consult their members.

In Cape Town, confusion reigned on Tuesday as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in the Western Cape called a press conference to announce the suspension of the strike.

However, Cosatu organiser in the province Mike Louw told journalists: ”We’re not suspending the strike. The actual date of return to work will depend on the national joint management committee and their decision on Wednesday.”

For its part, the African National Congress (ANC) said on Tuesday it will not choose sides in the strike during its policy conference, which starts in Midrand on Wednesday. Instead, secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe is on standby to give advice to any of those involved.

”The secretary general of the ANC has been made available so that he assists in whatever way,” ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama told reporters at Midrand.

He would not be drawn on the party’s stance on the government’s final wage increase offer of 7,5%. ”The ANC does not get into the question of figures,” he said, ”so that no one throws a spanner in the works.”

In Pretoria, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande supported the strikers, and congratulated the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union for what he called a victory for public servants.

”Since 1999, government has never considered going beyond a 6% increase. Irrespective of where you settle, this is a very important victory,” he said.

On Friday, the government tabled its final offer, which included a 7,5% wage increase for this year. It gave unions 21 days to accept or reject the proposal. The move also suspended wage talks and the efforts to solve the impasse through mediation.

Several union leaders have indicated privately that their unions will reject the offer, but will wait for the 21 days to elapse before making a public announcement.

Some of the unions, however, have said they will consider signing the offer and accepting the deal.

Should the deadline pass without the majority of union members signing the deal, the government will either have to withdraw it and renegotiate, or unilaterally implement the offer. — Sapa

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