/ 15 March 2023

Nehawu-led public sector strike at an end, bargaining council says

Nehawu members protest outside George Tabor Technical College in Soweto on 8 March 2023. (Fani Mahuntsi/ Gallo Images)

A strike by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which turned violent and caused major disruptions at several public hospitals, has come to an end after resolution of an impasse on the implementation of a cost of living adjustment.

However, in an indication of continued labour strife, the rival Public Servants Association (PSA), which represents more than 235 000 government workers, rejected the state’s latest offer of a 7% salary increase, saying it remained resolute on its mandated demand for a 10% hike.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) said the strike by Nehawu, initiated on 6 March, emanated from an outstanding dispute regarding the implementation of the previous leg 2022/2023 cost of living adjustment by the government.

“A facilitation process was initiated (on 9 March) as a means of breaking the impasse between parties. The state, as the employer, together with the trade unions Nehawu joined by Popcru, Denosa and Sapu, deliberated on chartering a way forward. The robust discussions and engagements continued through the weekend and culminated in a settlement agreement for the facilitation process,” it said.

This comes after the labour appeal court on Monday interdicted Nehawu, its members and workers employed in essential public services from participating in strike action. The court called the union’s approach to the strike of essential service workers “deplorable, with the gravest and, in some instances it appears, deadly, consequences”.

(John McCann/M&G)

The PSCBC said elements of the agreement included a cessation of hostilities between parties following the end of the strike, the implementation of a “no work, no pay” deduction, an orderly return to work for employees on strike over a 24-hour period after the signing of the agreement and the tabling of any residual and substantial matters emanating from the 2022/2023 wage dispute. 

Nehawu said it saluted the frontline members and workers in the public service who had heeded the call “to defend collective bargaining”.

“We call on all our members and workers at the picket lines to prepare for an orderly return back to work, in line with the reportback given directly at picket lines this morning,” Nehawu added.

Elsewhere, the PSA said the government’s 7% pay increase offer did not take into account the escalating cost of living and did not meet the needs of public servants. 

The PSA did not participate in the Nehawu-led strike and accused the latter of trying to intimidate its members who had reported for duty during the industrial action.

“The behaviour demonstrated by some unions cannot be tolerated and the PSA thus welcomes the court interdict against violent attacks on its members ‘disguised as a strike’,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The PSA is further disappointed that whilst it is engaging to secure a decent increase for its members, who are about to lose a cash gratuity in April 2023, other unions are not only disrupting negotiations but are also intimidating PSA members.

“It … defies logic to suggest that participation in current wage negotiations, with a view to improv(ing) the conditions of public servants, amounts to betrayal of workers’ struggle. The PSA views such attacks as a desperate attempt to remain relevant,” it added.