Cosatu. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Cosatu. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Trade union federation Cosatu has rejected attempts by the government to freeze salary adjustments of public servants for 2020 and 2021, warning it would count as a “declaration of war”.

The government submitted its proposal to the public service collective bargaining council (PSCBC) on Tuesday, for a review of the three-year collective agreement of consumer price index (CPI) plus 2% signed by the employer and public sector unions in 2018.

SA’s largest labour federation said the review would mean that “hard-working public servants” will not see any salary increases for the year 2020/2021.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the federation’s central executive committee (CEC) viewed the action by government as a “direct attack on collective bargaining”. 

“This irresponsible and blatant act of provocation will seriously destabilise the public service and we warn the government to abandon this idea and give workers what is due to them on the first of April 2020,” said Pamla.

The Public Servants Association (PSA), which represents 230,000 government workers, said the “timing of the proposal, a few days before the adjustments were due to be implemented, speaks of a government that regards public servants as an easy target to resolve its financial woes”,

The government has been battling to contain its huge wage bill and spends about R600bn on salaries, representing 35% of its annual spending. The next round of public-sector wage negotiations is set to take place in the second half of the year.

In July 2019, public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu raised the ire of public-sector unions when he announced his department’s intentions to cut more than 30,000 jobs in an effort to reduce the public-service wage bill by more than R20bn.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni, who is expected to deliver his much-anticipated budget speech in parliament on Wednesday, is under pressure from credit ratings agencies to announce measures to cut the wage bill.

Pamla, however, said that if the government attempted to “smuggle” the review into Mboweni’s speech, “the CEC will regard it as a declaration of war and there will be parting of ways with government going forward”.

Cosatu is part of the ruling tripartite alliance led by the ANC.

“This reckless destabilisation of the public service is not informed by the state’s delivery programme but is an ideologically driven programme aimed at pandering to the ratings agencies,” said Pamla.

“This latest action by the government suggests that beyond broad statements on shared objectives, the alliance still has limited influence on what happens in government.”

Pamla said broad agreements on building a capable developmental state appear to have been derailed by an agenda “targeting the public service [which is] driven by technocrats”.

The National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), and the PSA, SA’s largest and second-largest public service unions respectively, are against freezing the increases.

With Bloomberg

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