Republic of South African public sector workers during a one-day general strike on August 10, 2010. The unions went on an indefinite work stoppage on August 18 demanding an 8 percent raise and housing allowances., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Strike threat as state holds civil servants in deadlock
05 Jun 2012 00:00 - Bongani Nkosi
Unions have given the government 24 hours to agree to terms to avoid a wage dispute that would throw the public service sector into disarray.
Public sector unions have united in rejecting the government’s wage offer, which – as it is now – would see salaries in these sectors increase by 6.5% and the housing allowance by R100. Unions are demanding an 8% wage increment and R1 500 housing allowance, while the state is offering R900 for a housing allowance, an increase from the current R800. This adjustment would be effective for six months only.
The 14 negotiating unions joined forces in a press briefing in Centurion on Monday, where they announced that Wednesday was their final deadline for finding a solution to the deadlocked negotiations. They have vowed not to accept the government’s offer unless it was revised.
“Labour demands a revised offer not later than Wednesday, June 6 2012, that takes into account the cost of living faced by the public workers,” said Nkosana Dolopi, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) deputy secretary, reading from a statement prepared by Cosatu-affiliated unions and the Independent Labour Caucus (ILC).
The ILC, representing unions such as the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU) and the National and Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, and Cosatu unions are negotiating on behalf of approximately 1.3-million civil employees across the country.
During the press briefing, the unions allayed fears of a strike, saying they would decide their next step later in the week.
But a dispute will more than likely be declared this week as neither the state nor unions have indicated they would revise their stance.
According to the unions, the government has indicated it would declare a dispute if no agreement was reached by Thursday. “There’s no talk of a strike yet,” Dolopi told the Mail & Guardian.
“Let’s wait for Wednesday and any further decision would be taken then.”
If the government threatens to declare a dispute if no agreement is reached by Thursday, it means an employees’ lockout is on the cards, SAOU’s CEO, Chris Klopper, told the M&G.
“If the employer declares a dispute, then their logical option would be to declare a lockout [from workplaces]. This would throw public services into disarray,” said Klopper.
“A logical conclusion for a union would be declaring a labour action.
“The employer has pulled the trigger [by threatening to declare a dispute] and the ball is in their court now,” said Klopper.
Public services spokesperson Dumisani Nkwamba could not be reached for comment.
Both the unions and the government have already backed down from their initial offers and demands. Negotiations started in February and officially deadlocked two weeks ago. The last negotiation round on May 25 resulted in unions bringing their demand down to 8% and the government increasing its offer from 4% to the current 6.5%.
“However the same differences over housing allowance and the term of the agreement remained,” said the unions.
Negotiations could resume if the employer submits a revised offer, the unions said.
“Labour is available for 24 hours a day to negotiate on all the issues on the table.” Dolopi said: “We still have some hope that the government would come back to us and offer us something better than what they are offering now.”