Government urges calm amid public sector strike fears

Government has appealed to public sector unions to “remain calm”, after the decision by labour to pull out of the most recent wage agreement.

The move by workers has resurrected the spectre of a bitter public service strike after eight months of negotiations. Unions originally demanded a 15% increase, but eventually settled on 7%.

On Friday, public sector unions announced they were pulling out of the 2015 agreement and suspending all collective bargaining processes within the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargain Council (PSCBC).

Their withdrawal comes after the state was unable to stop the implementation of a claw-back mechanism that will reduce the agreed wage increase from 7% to an effective 6.4%.

The state views the claw-back as justified, arguing that it overpaid civil servants, under the previous wage settlement negotiated in 2012, after inflation forecasts came in lower than estimated.

The bargaining council is seeking legal opinion, on whether the state has grounds to get this money back. A decision is expected at the end of June.

Unions, however, demanded that while the legal process was under way, workers received the 7% increase, instead of the adjusted amount.

Last week it emerged that the state could not stop the reduced payment due to technicalities on its salary information system.

Unions have nevertheless seen this as violation of the agreement.

Regardless of what the legal opinion determined, union members are “very, very angry” said Nkosinathi Mabhida, spokesperson for Cosatu affiliated unions in the bargaining council.


“What we’ll be doing for the next two weeks [is] we are going down to our members, [telling] them about this decision and they must direct us whether to go on strike or not,” he said.

If the state insisted on implementing the reduced 6.4%, “we are left with no option but to embark on a programme of action with our members”, Mabhida said.

A protracted public service strike would be another blow to the country’s economy. It is still recovering from a series of punishing strikes in the mining sector last year, and is weighed down by electricity shortages.

Brent Simon, spokesperson for public service and administration minister Nathi Mthethwa, told the Mail & Guardian that “any talk of a strike was premature”. He dismissed the comments by labour as “union politics”.

The state could not stop the implementation of the adjusted 6.4% he said because this would have resulted in no civil servants getting paid on the due date of 15 June.

There was a “legitimate mistake made” but government had done its best to “avert and even bigger crisis of not paying people salaries”, he said.

“We are asking unions to remain calm and await the outcome of the process,” said Simons.

“We are all party to a legal process that is unfolding at the PSCBC.”

Legal questions
The state maintains that a clause under the previous 2012 wage agreement permits it to recover any over payments, as a result of variations to CPI, through adjustments the following year.

Unions, however, have rejected this interpretation, saying that the clauses in the 2012 agreement which has since lapsed have no effect on the current wage agreement.

It is also unclear whether unions are in fact able to pull out, wholesale, of the 2015 wage agreement, which was signed by the parties in May.

Government’s position is that unions cannot pull out of the agreement, as it is a binding collective agreement, to which parties must adhere for the next three years – or period of the settlement.  

Section 23 of the labour relations Act allows any party to withdraw from a collective agreement, if that agreement is for an indefinite period and reasonable written notice of the withdrawal is given to other parties.

The unions see this differently however.

The Act, under section 23, allowed unions to withdraw said Mabhida, provided written notice was supplied.

The unions has written to the parties informing them of their decision to exit the agreement, he said. The written notices would be delivered today (Monday 15 June).

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.
Advertising

Protective equipment for schools in KwaZulu-Natal goes ‘missing’

Without protective equipment, schools in uMlazi, Pinetown and Zululand won’t meet the already delayed deadline for reopening

The statue of Louis XVI should remain forever handless

A statue of the French king in Louisville, Kentucky was damaged during the protests against police killings. It should not be repaired
Advertising

Press Releases

Empowering his people to unleash their potential

'Being registered as an AGA(SA) means you are capable of engineering an idea and turning it into money,' says Raymond Mayekisa

What is an AGA(SA) and AT(SA) and why do they matter?

If your company has these qualified professionals it will help improve efficiencies and accelerate progress by assisting your organisation to perform better

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday