Strike looms as wage talks stall

Unions representing 1,3-million government employees have given Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi until next week to improve the government’s wage offer and avert strike action.

Baloyi’s intervention this week to resolve a month-long wage impasse between the government and labour failed to produce results.

The Mail & Guardian understands that leaders of the Public Servants’ Association (PSA) and other unions rejected Baloyi’s attempt to convince them to accept the government’s 6,5% offer. Workers are demanding an 8,6% increase, a R1 000 housing allowance and the equalisation of employer medical aid subsidies.

One Cosatu leader, who asked not to be named, described the meeting with Baloyi as a waste of time. “The minister didn’t put anything on the table - he explained why the government is offering 6,5%.
What we expected was for him to improve the offer. This is not another round of negotiations; the political head can’t negotiate salaries. We told him to come back with something better.”

According to one union leader, the government has budgeted R11,2-billion for salary increases and R845-million for a housing allowance. Labour’s demand of an 8,6% increase would cost the government over R17-billion.

The PSA’s deputy general manager, Manie de Clercq, said the unions would issue a seven-day notice to strike some time next week if the government failed to improve its offer. “The only different thing Baloyi said was that the government was considering improving its offer on the housing allowance,” said De Clercq. “The meeting was disappointing. The minister categorically stated that the 6,5% wage offer was final and that the government didn’t have money.

“I believe that if they’re serious they can do something—they gave workers in government agencies like Eskom about 9%. The only alternative is for unions to start balloting members. So far 80% of our members have indicated that they’re ready to strike.”

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said his union was consulting members on whether teachers should down tools so close to final school exams.

Teachers have just returned to work after a five-week break due to the World Cup.

Maluleke said that although the union was concerned about the impact of strike action, the employer’s arrogance had left labour with few options. “We’ve seen company chief executives giving themselves bonuses of more than R2-million. The attitude is that recession is the language that should be understood by workers.”

Sizwe Pamla, spokesperson for Cosatu’s health affiliate, Nehawu, said: “We understand the budget deficit, but there is nothing we can do. They gave parastatals 9%.”

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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