Tuesday, August 24, 2010

South African Public Sector Workers Strike For Higher Wages, Housing

South African Public Sector Workers Strike for Higher Wages, Housing

One million union members from education, health care services walk off the job

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Two major civil service unions, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) went on strike August 18 after talks had broken down with the government over the workers’ demand for an 8.6 percent wage increase and a 1000 Rand (US$170) monthly housing allowance. The strike has placed strains on the Tripartite Alliance which includes the ruling African National Congress, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) which both SADTU and NEHAWU are affiliated.

On August 23 it was announced that only one-tenth of a percent still divided the government from the unions in regard to an agreement on wages. On August 21 the government was granted a court injunction that ordered workers who are employed in essential services in the healthcare fields to return to work.

Nonetheless, the union leaders have stated that they do not intend to abide by the injunction. A union spokesman, Mugwena Maluleke, said that “We will not advise them to go back to work, because their employer is not sensitive to their issues.” (BBC, Aug. 21)

Both the Government ministers and union leaders have accused each other of intimidation. A Government spokesman, Themba Maseko, appealed to the striking workers to sign the injunction and to return to work.

He also said that the Government would crack down on striking workers using intimidation and violence. “Maseko was quoted as saying that “At this point we are extremely concerned about the violence and intimidation that continues to characterize the strike in parts of the country.”

Maseko also claimed that “Reports about intimidation of workers, particularly nurses and teachers, who do not want to be part of the strike are being investigated, and those found responsible for these acts will face the full might of the law.”

From the standpoint of the striking unions, SADTU issued a statement on August 23 saying that “As the strike by public service workers enters its second week, SADTU has noted the increased use of violence by the state machinery against our members. Instead of concentrating on peripheral issues and playing to the gallery by misinforming the public, we urge the Government to focus on the key issues and respond to the demands of the workers in order to bring the strike to an end.” (August 23 SADTU Statement printed on the cosatu.org.za website)

The African National Congress leader and South African President Jacob Zuma has stated that the workers do have a right to strike but urged them to return to work. Zuma relied heavily on the union movement in his ascendancy to the leadership of the ruling party as well as his overwhelming victory as president in 2009.

At present there is an ongoing debate within the Tripartite Alliance over economic policy. The COSATU leaders and their affiliates have criticized the government for continuating the implementation of neo-liberal economic policies.

The ANC-led government has responded by saying that its policies are based upon the current international climate, with specific reference to the impact of the financial crisis worldwide on South Africa.

The public sector strike comes at the same time as other major industrial actions throughout the country. Various unions including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have threatened strikes or have already downed their tools in wage disputes.

In a statement issued on August 23 by the NUM in relationship to a wage dispute with Rio Tinto, “Over 1,700 workers at Rio Tinto’s Richards Bay Minerals may go on strike later this week. The NUM demands that the company should offer a 10 percent increment on a one year deal whilst the company insists on 8 percent and a three year deal.” (NUM Statement, Aug. 23, printed on coastu.org.za website)

The NUM statement continues saying that “The NUM further demands that the company should increase its housing allowance from R3200 for Grade 6010 to R4000 a month. The housing allowance for grade 11-13 should be increased to R6000 a month from R5500.”

On the same day it was announced that NUM had signed a wage deal with Impala, the number two platinum producer. This agreement is the result of a protracted series of negotiations between the union and management.

According to the NUM statement, “The parties agreed on an 8 percent wage increment for the lowest categories and a 7.5 for the highest categories. The NUM also agreed with Impala that the two issues dealing with housing and transport would be referred to a task team whilst the issue of the provident fund would go for arbitration.” NUM statement, Aug. 23, cosatu.org.za)

Also on August 23 over 600 workers went on strike at the Exarro Sands corporation located in the Kwazulu-Natal province. A NUM statement said that “The workers at Exarro’s two operations demand that the employer should increase their wages by 14 percent whilst the employer offers 8 percent includes for all demands.” (NUM statement, Aug. 23 taken from cosatu.org.za)

With the current economic crisis worldwide governments within both the developed and developing states will be pressured by their workers for wage increases and other benefits. However, only when the crisis is addressed at its roots will the structural problems of the declining social wage of the working class be effectively addressed.

The capitalist system worldwide is demanding that workers all over the world accept austerity measures in order to pay for the crisis that they did not create. In order to defeat these policies that are designed to further impoverish the working class, the proletariat must raise their demands within the context of the international character of capital during this period.

1 comment:

Johannes H Kotze said...

Why Gov. employees DON'T deserve a raise !