/ 24 October 2022

Cosatu strike imminent as wage negotiations collapse

Cosatu Shutdown 4941 Dv
File photo by Delwyn Verasamy, M&G

The collapse of the public sector wage negotiations are a portent of strike action by  Cosatu unions who say they will continue to face off with the government. 

This is according to a statement issued by the trade union federation’s joint mandating committee (JMC) on Monday. 

Cosatu unions — including the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) and the South African Emergency Personnel’s Union (Saepu) — are now demanding a 10% wage hike. This is after the government allegedly withdrew its offer to raise wages by 3%.

“As things stand, there is no offer on the table … The employer had an option to reopen the matter for discussion and negotiation, however they chose otherwise,” the JMC members said in a statement. 

The unions have declared a dispute, with conciliation scheduled to happen on 31 October.

“We have resolved to rally our collective might to push the employer to better the rejected offer and will use everything in our power to register our disdain to the powers that be, including to the highest office in the land,” they said.

The JMC’s decision comes after it emerged that the government intends to unilaterally impose its tabled 3% wage offer by invoking section 5(5)(b) of the Public Service Act, which provides that the last offer can be implemented in the event of a deadlock. 

Imposing the 3% wage offer is a convenient solution for the government, which is expected to give clarity on the size of the public sector wage bill in the medium-term budget policy statement on Wednesday.

As has been the case in the past, the public sector wage bill is expected to be a major focus of Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s speech. Analysts are expecting the treasury to have pencilled in a 3% wage increase.

If the government goes ahead with imposing the wage increase, it would further undermine the collective bargaining process, members of the JMC contend. 

Flying in the face of the JMC’s position, Cosatu affiliate, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), has said publicly that it is willing to accept the 3% wage increase. But Nehawu, Popcru, Denosa and Saepu are of the view that the government cannot impose an offer it has already withdrawn. 

Members of the JMC would not be drawn to comment on the rift that seems to have emerged between Sadtu and the other Cosatu unions.

Speaking at a media briefing on Sadtu’s decision to accept the 3%, JMC convenor Simon Hlungwani said: “I think we should embrace the fact that all unions, even within Cosatu, take mandates from their members … So we don’t think there is anything strange in that or anything to worry about. We know that we talk to each other. We bring the mandate of all our members and we try to consolidate, harmonise and see how we can meet each other on the middle ground.”

Meanwhile, the Public Servants Association (PSA) said on Monday it would go ahead with its planned industrial action.

The PSA filed a notice to strike on 24 October. This, the union said, is “after exhausting all options possible to resolve the wage negotiation impasse and hitting a brick wall owing to government’s arrogance and disregard of workers’ plight throughout the negotiations”.

The union’s members will have the right to strike seven days after filing the notice. 

The PSA said public service workers have been the scapegoats for endless corruption. 

“The public service, its employees, and citizens have been bleeding since the introduction of austerity measures by a cruel, uncaring government that refuses to acknowledge realities,” the union added.