'No wage dispute justifies the death of people'

Plans by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to stage a solidarity strike triggered a chorus of warnings from politicians on Wednesday.

“Our major concern is to protect life and ensure that patients get the care they need,” Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told the National Assembly’s health committee.

“It is critical for the strike to end immediately, as lives are being lost.”

The portfolio committee on health in Gauteng pleaded with Cosatu members not to embark on a strike in solidarity with about 1,3-million public servants who had been staying away from work since Wednesday last week.

“The threat by Cosatu to organise a secondary strike will add a blow to the current volatile situation, especially in our health institutions,” said committee chairperson Molebatsi Bopape.

She said people’s lives should take precedence over any other issue.

Patients dying
“In Gauteng hospitals alone, we have seen babies left unattended and patients dying due to the strike,” she said in a statement that called for a speedy resolution to the mass action.

About 2 400 soldiers have been deployed to help out in 42 hospitals countrywide where several patients have died because of a lack of proper care.

The ANC in Gauteng “strongly condemned ... the acts of vandalism, trashing and intimidation” by striking workers.

“We call on the leadership of unions to take full responsibility and stop all illegal and objectionable actions.”

High costs
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said the cost of the wage dispute had been too high.

“No salary dispute justifies the death of people and the destruction of young matriculants’ careers.

“The death of defenceless ill people and innocent babies as a result of the public-service strike is the worst form of selfishness.”

Mulder criticised the “radicalism” of Cosatu’s leadership.

“It is appearing more and more that there may be a hidden agenda behind the strike.

“Cosatu leaders have already expressed their frustrations with President [Jacob] Zuma because he is not following their policy directions,” said Mulder.

Cosatu has threatened that its secondary strike will shut down the economy.

“Every Cosatu-affiliated union must on August 26 submit [a seven-day] notice to their employers to embark on a secondary strike,” Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Until Monday, the government had said it was offering a 7% wage increase. However, government spokesperson Themba Maseko this week said the offer was in “real terms” actually 8,5%, a mere tenth of a percent short of what unions wanted.

This was because the increase offer was bolstered by a 1,5% pay progression.

‘Total anarchy’
However, unions said the pay progression was part of an old agreement on performance appraisals signed in 2003.

This issue has angered unions, with the Independent Labour Caucus (ILC), whose members were also striking, warning that the dispute with the government could get even worse.

“There’s a threat that if less than 50% of unions sign government’s final offer the employer will revert back to the 5,2% salary increase and a R620 per month housing allowance,” ILC chairperson Chris Klopper said.

“If that is true, there will be total anarchy in this country,” he said.

The public service and administration department has already signed off on the government’s wage offer and informed unions it will be unilaterally implemented if it is not accepted within 21 days.

Unions are demanding an 8,6% increase and R1 000 monthly housing allowance, and have rejected the government’s offer of 7% and a R700 allowance.—Sapa

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