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Sassa strike won’t disrupt grants payouts, says public servants union

The Public Servants’ Association (PSA) is planning a national strike at the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa), where the union represents more than half the workers employed at the registration centres and pay points.

The strike is planned from June  11 and will take place on days when there are no pay outs, but it will severely affect the registration of new welfare recipients and could halt the agency’s operations.

“We are going to organise it so that it doesn’t disrupt the distribution of grants but all other Sassa [operations will be affected],” PSA general manager Ivan Fredericks said this week.

The remuneration of Sassa employees is governed by the Sassa Act, which gives the minister of social development the prerogative to decide on increases. These fall outside the public sector collective bargaining council.

Since 2014, the PSA has represented more than half of Sassa staff and has negotiated wage increases. It was awarded a strike certificate after former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini failed to respond to wage demands of between 10% and 13% made by the union in August last year.

“The [former] minister did not even make a counteroffer,” Fredericks said.

Dlamini was replaced by Susan Shabangu in a Cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa. She also failed to respond to the PSA, Fredericks said.

Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi said Shabangu had asked the PSA for more time after she took over. “Sassa requested a two-month period in order to seek a mandate,” he said.

“PSA was informed that Sassa was embarking on its mandating process and that, when the mandate is received, Sassa will revert to the PSA. The latter approached the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] before the mandate was received by Sassa,” Letsatsi said.

Instead, the union approached the CCMA, which granted the union protection to go on strike because of the delays.The annual increase was due to take effect from April 1 but the negotiations between the PSA and Sassa were never held.

“The planned strike action is unfortunate because Sassa is dependent on the public service in this regard,” Letsatsi said this week.

But Fredericks said Sassa deliberately ignored the union when the initial demand was made. This week, Sassa’s lawyers finally wrote to the PSA but Fredericks said they did not want to discuss the wage demands, or formal offer.

“The talks they want to have is not about the demands. It’s about a rap over the knuckles because we announced this strike, so we are not going to bow to that pressure.”

Letsatsi confirmed the letter to the union but said it was meant to caution the PSA against the effect of the strike.

“[And] to impress on the PSA the dangerous effect the strike will have on the services rendered by Sassa to the poorest of the poor in the
 country,” he said.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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