/ 18 August 2010

Strike on as unions reject govt wage offer

Public-sector workers embarked on a full-blown, indefinite strike on Wednesday after rejecting the government’s latest pay offer.

“The strike is on,” South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) president Thobile Ntola said on Tuesday.

He was speaking after Congress of South African Trade Unions-affiliated unions and the Independent Labour Caucus (ILC) notified the government of their plans in the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council, in Centurion.

“The government went on strike first by refusing to give in to the demands of the workers,” said Ntola.

The government has, meanwhile, greeted news of the strike with “grave concern” and said in a statement that the no-work, no-pay principle would be enforced, with deductions for the duration of the strike.

It condemned recent disruptive protests and warned of “stringent measures” against employees who violated the code of good practice.

All public servants performing essential services in health services, the police, correctional services and at ports of entry were expected to report for duty

The unions expected 95% of the 1,3-million public-sector workers to hold mass marches at all work stations in all nine provinces, said Ntola.

“We made it clear to the employer that our members were resolute in their pursuit for the original demands of an 8,6% wage increase and housing allowance of R1 000,” he said. “Starting tomorrow [Wednesday] … the strike for public-service unions will continue until such time that the employer accedes to the demands of the workers.”

Asked about the effect of the strike on pupils, Ntola said it was not good for them but it was the government’s fault for refusing to meet workers’ demands.

“We are calling on the government to stop striking so that we can go back to work,” he said,

ILC chairperson Chris Klopper said its demands for a medical subsidy, housing and night-shift allowances and recognition of academic qualifications had not been addressed since the 2007 public-sector strike.

“Another issue that has not been addressed since 2007 is that of synchronisation of the bargaining council and budgetary process with the aim to establish April 1 as the adjustment date.”

While the unions claim that the offer on the table stands at 7% with a R700 housing allowance and no movement on other issues, the government claims that this offer amounts to a 9,4% wage increase at salary levels one to 10, and 8,5% at salary levels 11 and 12.

The hike included a 7% wage increase, a 0,9% housing-allowance increase and a 1,5% annual pay progression for which 90% of public-service employees qualified, said spokesperson Dumisani Nkwamba.

He said the government remained committed to responding to the issues, including housing with a focus on ownership and the equalisation of medical aid subsidies, during the second phase of negotiations in October.

Call for peaceful protests
The government called on striking workers to protest peacefully.

“Employees are also strongly cautioned against the intimidation of non-striking public servants and damage to property,” said Nkwamba.

“All trade union leaders must ensure that their members act in a disciplined and peaceful manner.”

He said Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi would address the media on the way forward in Cape Town on Wednesday at 1pm. — Sapa