Public service unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Wednesday resolved to go on strike over wages.
“The unions met today [Wednesday]… we have now come to a firm conclusion to go on strike,” Fikile Majola, general secretary of the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) told a media briefing in Johannesburg.
“We will serve government with a notice to strike today.”
The unions, representing 56% of the 1,3-million public sector employees, included Nehawu, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, the South African National Defence Union, the South African Medical Association, the South African State and Allied Workers Union and the Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa.
As part of the preparations, the unions would embark on a build-up programme of pickets, marches and demonstrations, which would start when the seven-day strike notice period expired.
Two major marches would be held in Pretoria and Cape Town on August 10, said Majola.
“We will meet on Friday and come out with a specific programme of action on the pickets, marches and a full-blown strike.”
The unions rejected the state’s offer of a 6,5% wage increase, demanding 8,6% and a R1 000 housing subsidy.
The state showed no willingness to move from the 6,5% wage increase, R620 housing subsidy and the implementation date of July 1, said Majola.
The unions had initially demanded an 11% salary increase across the board and R1 650 housing subsidy backdated to April 1.
“During the negotiations our members were reading daily of government’s wasteful expenditure on cars, hotels, parties and World Cup tickets, amounting to millions of rands.
“This was sending a wrong message because we were told that there was no money.”
The unions appreciated the country’s economic difficulties and had a lot of patience during the wage negotiations.
“We have done our utmost best to avoid going on strike, even revising our earlier demand.
“We have reached a point where we feel we want to go on a full-blown strike,” said Majola.
He said the impact of a public service strike was unlike any other strike because it affected everyone, especially the poor and most vulnerable, who were sorely dependant on government services for their daily survival.
“All government departments, including schools, home affairs offices, hospitals, traffic offices and the country’s ports of entry, will be affected by the strike.”
Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said his union, representing 250 000 teachers, would participate in the strike regardless of its timing.
“We understand that schools were closed for some five weeks for the June holidays and the World Cup, but we have no choice. This is our last resort.
“There is no correct time to go on strike, even if it was in the beginning of the year it still would have impacted on the year-end results,” said Maluleke.
Majola said Cosatu had not asked for a political intervention from the ruling ANC on the deadlock.
“We are not going to ask the ANC to intervene but their intervention would be welcomed.”
He said the planned strike would be “worse than the 2007 public servants’ strike which was arguably the biggest ever in the sector”.
The unions would meet Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi at his request in Centurion on Thursday afternoon.
“We do not know whether he will bring a new offer to the table or not, but we will listen to him,” Majola said.
The unions committed to ensuring discipline and a peaceful strike action.
They emphasised that they were not part of the strike by the Public Servants Association, said to start on Thursday. — Sapa