The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), one of the country’s largest public-sector unions, said on Friday that current wage agreements are sacrosanct and not open for review.

Nehawu’s comments come after President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government is speaking to unions about measures to contain the public-sector wage bill.

The wage bill is a key worry for ratings agencies as it accounts for about a third of consolidated government expenditure.

Nehawu is one of the largest affiliates of union federation Cosatu that is in a ruling alliance with the ANC, so its comments carry weight in ANC circles.

“We note that the president stated that the government is engaged with unions on reducing spending ... These discussions are not collective bargaining engagements on the salaries and conditions of service — we would never allow the undermining of this,” Nehawu’s statement read. “The current wage agreements are sacrosanct and not open for review.” 

The government agreed a three-year, public-sector wage deal in 2018 that runs until the end of March 2021. Nehawu says it hasn’t yet received a mandate from its members about how to negotiate over salaries from April 2021.

Fitch Ratings said on Friday that it does not expect finance minister Tito Mboweni to make clear commitments on reducing the public-sector wage bill in his budget speech later this month.