Government crosses fingers as municipal wage talks drag on

Striking municipal workers march to Salga offices on August 19 2011 in Johannesburg. (Gallo)

Striking municipal workers march to Salga offices on August 19 2011 in Johannesburg. (Gallo)

“Talks have not been suspended,” said public service and administration spokesperson Dumisani Nkwamba. “But government has tabled its final settlement offer.”

But Nkwamba is not worried about strike action. “I don’t think we should be speaking about such things until the public sector coordinating bargaining council (PSCBC) processes have been exhausted,” he said.
“For now they have not been exhausted.”

Unions have 21 days to consult with their members over the offer. “The final government offer includes 6.5% multi-term increase plus a R900 housing allowance, pay progression and other benefits,” said Nkwamba.

For unions, negotiating under an umbrella body, this is not the end of the line.

Nkosana Dolobi, South African Democratic Teachers’ Union deputy general secretary, said even though government was putting this as their “final offer”, he was optimistic that talks would continue.

Open to negotiations
“I am always positive,” he said. “We will pursue them and are open to negotiations 24 hours a day. I think they will come to their senses and improve their offer.”

Dolobi was unconvinced that unions should lighten their offer in light of tough economic conditions.

“That would be relevant if it was applicable to all,” he said, “But we have huge inequalities and money being wasted. What we are demanding here will not make our members rich but will help meet basic needs.”

Unions are committed to an 8% annual increase and a R1 000 housing allowance.

In the meantime, future plans are uncertain pending the unions’ consultation with their members.

In a separate round of negotiations, local government employees, represented by the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu), will hear government’s final offer on their demands on Thursday.

Strike action
Tahir Sema, Samwu spokesperson said, “We have no update other than that the employer is not budging from its 4.5% offer. Today is the last round of negotiations.”

Samwu negotiators are demanding a double digit increase and have brought their wage demand down from 11% from 15%.

“Negotiations have not been going as well as we expected,” said Sema. He attributed this to the capping of public sector wage increases at 5% by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in the national budget speech. “This has not created a conducive environment for negotiations,” he said.

Sema believes local government can afford their demands. “Yes, we [Samwu] are a stakeholder in local government so we know the finances that are available to them.”

“Our workers are ready for strike action if necessary,” said Sema.

Samwu is demanding a double digit increase, municipal vacancies to be filled and the minimum wage to be increased from R4 000 to R6 000.

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