/ 18 April 2018

Unions lock negotiators in amid public sector wage talks deadlock

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As frustrations rise over the delayed public sector wage talks, trade unions on Tuesday evening said they had locked in state negotiators at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) offices in Centurion, saying they will be barred from leaving until they receive a mandate from government.

“The state negotiators again claimed they have no mandate when negotiations resumed today. This is slap on labour following the minister’s promise last week that she will engage in full negotiations this week,” Public Servants Association of South Africa deputy general manager Tahir Maepa said in an SMS on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday morning, it was not immediately clear how long the negotiators had been locked in. 

Negotiations for wage increases affecting about 1.3-million civil servants have dragged on since October.

Khaya Xaba, spokesperson for the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), confirmed on Tuesday evening that the unions are demanding urgent action from government.

“They have time to play hide and seek, they were supposed to come back today with a serious mandate, now they want to postpone until Thursday.”

Fin24 reported last week that unions had toned down their threats of a strike in the public sector, following an urgent meeting with Minister of Public Services and Administration Ayanda Dlodlo.

READ: Public sector wage talks teeter on a knife edge

PSCBC secretary general Frikkie De Bruin downplayed the locking in of government negotiators, saying it was a usual occurrence during negotiating season.

“This is part of the power play process, it’s not a hostage situation… we were expecting it, [it’s] part of our history, for the last 20 years.

“I’m sure parties will allow us to unlock the deadlock and continue another day,” he added.

De Bruin said the three major outstanding issues of concern are the percentage of the wage increases, the pay progression for the various salary bands and the housing allowance.

Spokesperson for the Department of Public Service and Administration Mava Scott said via SMS that parties are still negotiating at the PSCBC and “government negotiators do have a mandate”.

No mandate?

Unions have claimed in recent that weeks that Dlodlo wanted to withdraw her predecessor Faith Muthambi’s opening offer made in November.

Dlodlo has denied this, saying that the government is committed to finding a credible resolution to the public sector wage negotiations.

The three-year deal lapsed on March 31.

Unions’ opening demand was for wage increases of the consumer price index (CPI) + 3% for junior government employees, and CPI + 2% for mid-level and senior employees.

The Bureau of Economic Research predicts CPI will be 5.2% in 2018.

According to an updated list of demands seen by Fin24, unions have agreed to a three-year wage deal.

Government’s opening offer was CPI +1.5% increases for junior employees, increases of CPI+1% for mid-level government employees and a hike of CPI +0.5% for senior government employees level 11-12.

READ MORE: Changes buy Eskom a tiny bit of time

Ratings agencies have advised government to contain expenditure on civil servants. The public sector wage bill will amount to R587-billion in 2018/2019, and accounts for 35% of projected government spending of R1.67-trillion. – Fin24

This article will be updated as new information becomes available.