The labour court has ruled in favour of the Public Servants Association (PSA) in a case brought by social development minister Susan Shabangu to stop South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) workers from striking over deadlocked wage negotiations.
“The matter is struck off the roll with costs and the parties were directed to initiate negotiations within seven days in terms of the provisions of section 7(2) of the Sassa Act 9 of 2014 and the Labour Act 66 of 1995,” the union said in a statement.The PSA was ordered to call off the strike and members will resume work from Thursday.
The union — which represents more than half the workers employed at the registration centres and pay points — has been engaged in prolonged and conflict-ridden wage negotiations.
The PSA and the agency have not been able to reach an agreement on wage increases for workers since the union tabled its demands in February.
The demand included a single-term agreement with a general sliding-scale salary increase of between 13% and 15%.
Issues related to housing, leave, danger allowances, performance management and the insourcing of certain services were also included in the union’s demand.
The PSA says Sassa failed to table any offer in response after it decided not to participate in talks because it considers the group a branch of the public service co-ordinating bargaining council, which determines wages for all public servants.
The remuneration of Sassa employees is governed by the Sassa Act, which gives the minister the prerogative to decide on increases. These fall outside the ambit of the bargaining council.
After a meeting with Shabangu amid strike action on June 11, the PSA said in a statement that it “made it clear” to the minister that the Sassa bargaining forum is the only recognised structure for negotiating matters of mutual interest for workers.
“The PSA is adamant that Sassa is not bound by any bargaining process under the auspices of the public service co-ordinating bargaining council,” said PSA general manager Ivan Fredericks.
Following the meeting, the union resolved to “temporarily relax” strike action, which took place on days when there were no pay outs, but severely affected the registration of new welfare recipients.
On June 21, the PSA intensified strike action, as it handed over a memorandum to Shabangu.
“The PSA attempted on several occasions to have an audience with the minister of social development to, among other things, address Sassa failure to conclude on wage negotiations. The PSA also repeatedly warned Sassa that its conduct and attitude will impact negatively on service delivery and labour peace,” said Fredericks.
Following the minister’s failure to respond to the unions, the PSA resolved to adjust its strategy and embark on far more disruptive strike action which started on Monday.
Shabangu approached the labour court to interdict the strike which the PSA threatened would cripple Sassa operations. The matter was heard by the court on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Although this judgment vindicates what the PSA has been saying all along, the process is a wasteful expenditure by Sassa and the minister of social development,” Fredericks said in the union’s statement.
“The whole process from the strike actions to the court proceedings could have been averted should Sassa have agreed to follow procedure and negotiate in the relevant forum which is the Sassa national bargaining forum.”