Public servants' wage demands 'not affordable'

The 8,6% wage increase demanded by public-service unions is simply not affordable, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Thursday.

Briefing the media following Cabinet’s fortnightly meeting on Wednesday, Maseko said the Cabinet was disappointed with the unions’ rejection of the state’s offer of a 7% annual increase and R700 a month housing allowance.

“The offer is already way above the inflation rate,” he said.

Public-service unions embarked on an indefinite strike on Wednesday after rejecting the government’s revised wage offer. The M&G headed to Thokoza where members of the National Health and Allied Workers’ Union were protesting outside the Natalspruit Hospital.

The state’s final offer represented a move from the original offer of 5,2% and a R500 a month housing allowance.

“This is a clear demonstration that government was negotiating in good faith in an attempt to meet the demands of our employees,” Maseko said.

Responsibilities to all South Africans
While the government fully understood and appreciated the plight of public servants regarding low wages, it had to be mindful of its responsibilities to all South Africans, as the final offer already placed a huge burden on the fiscus.

“We had to make a choice between increasing the salary bill to unaffordable levels by meeting the union demands and cutting other urgently needed services.

“It’s a choice between improving the wages of state employees and continuing to address the service delivery needs of poor communities and the unemployed,” he said.

The final offer would have a carry-through effect of a further R2,7-billion in the 2011/12 financial year.

“The 8,6% demand is simply not affordable as every additional cent spent on salaries means less money for other essential services to the public.”

Increasing personnel spending meant there would be less money for education, learning materials, healthcare and health facilities, medicines, roads, economic infrastructure and other essential services that were part of the government’s electoral mandate.

“It also means we cannot employ more teachers and nurses.”

The government believed it would be unwise to borrow money to finance current spending, as this would continue to place an untold debt burden on future generations.

Maseko said it was not true that the government was insensitive to the plight of public servants who promoted essential services, such as teachers, nurses and doctors.

The Occupation Specific Dispensation was introduced in the public service to ensure that professionals were remunerated according to skill and expertise.

The government would continue to strive for the improvement of the working conditions of its employees within reasonable bounds, he said.

Strike expands
Meanwhile, strikers blocked the entrances to two hospitals around Johannesburg and teachers vowed to blockade a main highway as the stoppage by more than one million civil servants expanded on its second day on Thursday.

The strike was not expected to have any immediate impact on Africa’s largest economy but a prolonged work stoppage could slow commerce at home and trade abroad.

The groups staged a one-day warning strike last week and said the action that began on Wednesday was the start of an indefinite strike aimed at grinding the government to a halt.

Analysts expect a deal to be reached in the next few days at the earliest or by the start of September at the latest.

The strike increases pressure on President Jacob Zuma’s and the African National Congress to reach a deal with organised labour and appease the party’s long-standing union allies, who also have been a reliable source of votes.

But pressure will also mount on unions to reach a deal as rank-and-file members lose pay from being off the job and some look favourably on the government’s offer.

Public opinion could turn against the unions if a prolonged work stoppage forces parents to find day care for their children, delays treatment at hospitals and slows paperwork at government agencies.—Sapa, Reuters

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