Zuma orders ministers back to negotiating table

President Jacob Zuma has instructed all the ministers in the public-service sector to return to the negotiating table in an attempt to end a national strike, his spokesperson said on Monday.

“The president gave a mandate to the ministers to immediately go back to the negotiating table,” said Zizi Kodwa. “This follows a meeting the president held with ministers over the weekend, which assessed the strike by public servants and its impact to the country as a whole.”

Zuma had been “worried” about the long-term impacts of the strike, said Kodwa.

He was concerned about schooling grinding to a halt and state hospital services being severely disrupted.

“It is ordinary, poor people who are suffering. We can’t allow the strike to go on unabated,” he said.

Zuma was upset about several provinces having to postpone preliminary matric exams because of the strike.

“The government set itself goals to increase the pass rate of matriculants … the strike is obviously going to have a big knock in terms of that.

“In the interest of the country, the strike must be resolved.”

Zuma urged all parties involved to “put the interests of the country first” and to be willing to negotiate a solution.

Kodwa said unions had already been informed of the president’s instruction.

Hopes for an improved offer
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) welcomed Zuma’s comments.

“The federation hopes that an improved offer will now be tabled and that the strike can be settled as quickly as possible, through an agreement that is acceptable to the workers,” it said in a statement.

The workers are demanding an 8,6% wage rise — more than double inflation — and R1 000 a month as a housing allowance. The government has offered 7% and R700.

The strike has deepened a rift within the ruling alliance between Zuma’s African National Congress and Cosatu, which helped bring him to power but is disappointed he did not shift policies to the left.

Cosatu has threatened to widen the strike later this week to all of its member unions who it says represent about two million workers.

Analysts expect Zuma and the ANC government, which has typically given in to labour’s demands, to reach a deal soon, tilted in favour of the unions, and worry later about the damage to state spending.

Any agreement to end the dispute is likely to swell state spending by about 1% to 2%, forcing the government to find new funds just as it tries to bring down a deficit totalling 6,7% of gross domestic product.

Unions have also linked the labour action to Zuma’s political future. The next election is not until 2014, but the ruling alliance will decide long before that who its candidate would be.

Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi threatened to withdraw support for the ANC at the weekend, but the union federation struck a more conciliatory tone on Monday — condemning personal attacks on Zuma. — Reuters

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