Signs of a split in unions’ response to government’s increased wage offer emerged on Tuesday, with the countries biggest union suggesting they could reject the offer.
The government increased its offer to striking public service workers on Monday night from 7% to 7,5% — after unions demanded 8,6% — after being ordered back to negotiations by President Jacob Zuma. The state has also upped its offer for a monthly housing allowance to R800, with unions demanding R1 000.
However, South African Democratic Teachers’ Union president Thobile Ntola told M&G Education that his union might reject the offer.
“Judging from preliminary imput it appears as though the offer might be rejected,” he said.
“However, we will not have an official reply to the offer until we meet on Wednesday morning.”
But the country’s second-largest teachers’ union, however, is hopeful that its members will accept government’s improved wage offer and bring an end to the crippling teachers’ strike.
Ezrah Ramasehla, president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa said on Tuesday morning that his union will be taking the offer to its members on Tuesday and he had an optimistic outlook on the outcome.
“We seem to be in a difficult place right now, as everyone is feeling the effect of the strike,” he said. “My feeling is that we should accept.”
“If we reject the offer, we have to ask ourselves whether we still have the energy to draw battle lines.”
The public service strike entered its third week on Monday, with schools being especially hard hit. The strike has brought most schools across the country to a halt and seven provincial education departments have announced postponements of preliminary matric examinations. These exams are considered to be test runs for the final exams.
While Ramasehla was hopeful that the latest offer would be accepted by all parties, he urged for “systems to be put in place to ensure this situation doesn’t come up again.”
“We should ensure that this situation does not arise in future by making sure that all public servants, including teachers are properly paid.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille has called for the Labour Relations Act to be amended to limit the rights of teachers to strike.
Speaking at the Suid Afrikaanse Onderwyser Unie Principals Symposium in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday Zille said her party supported the right to strike, but also believes that rights should be exercised in a way that limits (as much as possible) undermining the rights of innocent parties.
“The actions of some union members will undoubtedly mean that many learners will fail their matric, or fail to meet the entrance requirements of tertiary institutions,” she said.
“This is a tragedy that will have life-long consequences for them and their families. When it comes to exercising our rights, they are always balanced by our responsibilities and the rights of others.”