A nurse at one of the isolation rooms at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth. Picture: THE HERALD/WERNER HILLS
A nurse at one of the isolation rooms at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth. Picture: THE HERALD/WERNER HILLS

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) has threatened to take the government to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) if it fails to implement an agreement to increase salaries on April 1.

Denosa also issued a strong warning that the commitment levels nurses have shown since the outbreak of Covid-19 “will collapse” because of a lack of appreciation by the state.

According to the existing agreement, on April 1, pay should rise at consumer price index (CPI) plus 1% for the first eight grades of the bargaining unit; and at CPI plus 0.5% for the higher grades.

In addition, all employees should receive notch increases equal to about 1% of pay. This would cut R37.8bn from the wage bill in 2020/2021, Treasury officials said in February.

Should the cuts not be achieved for 2020/2021, the fiscal deficit, which would rise to 6.8%, will widen by an additional percentage point, according to the Treasury. Moody’s Investors Service, which could make a rating decision on SA at the end of March, has expressed doubt that the government will meet these targets.

On Monday, the union called on the government to increase the number of staff members to ensure that health workers are able to handle the patients affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon, the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw) urged public servants to “prepare for a national shutdown of public facilities” if the government reneges on its wage agreement.

Nupsaw said in the latest talks by the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), on Tuesday, the government presented “its plan of implementing 0% salary increase for the public servant”.

“Nupsaw has rejected the offer by the employer along with other unions,” said its media officer Kagiso Makoe. “The failure of the government to ensure its part of the agreement is met by April 1 calls for nothing but a national shutdown … Nupsaw reserves its right to go to court to ensure the agreement is upheld.” 

Downing tools

On Friday, however, Denosa said nurses were willing to down tools if the government showed “disdain” to public servants by refusing to adjust their salaries.

On Tuesday, Public sector unions in the PSCBC emphatically rejected a plan by the state to renege on its pay agreement and freeze wages in the coming year. 

At the first meeting of the PSCBC since the February budget, detailed plans to cut the wage bill by R160bn over three years were announced. The largest public-sector union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) said it would strike if the cuts go ahead.

Nehawu said on Wednesday that it would embark on a national day of action on March 30 as a “warning shot” to the government to honour the last part of the three-year wage agreement signed by the PSCBC in 2018, due for implementation on April 1.

On Friday, Denosa said it would like to advise the National Treasury and the department of public service and administration of the “anger of public servants” that government would not be honouring the last leg of the three-year wage agreement.

“Denosa further advises the government that it will take it to the CCMA if it fails to implement the last leg of the collective bargaining agreement of adjusting salaries of public servants,” Denosa acting general secretary Cassim Lekhoathi said.  

“Maybe both ministers of the two departments have not come to witness the anger and low morale of public servants [due to] these threats to renege on its undertaking.”

Lekhoathi lashed out at the government, which he described as the “promulgator of laws” in the country, for breaking the same laws it expects others to abide by.

“There is nothing that will stop workers from fighting for their hard-earned rights when it is the same government that threatens to take away such rights.”

Update: March 20 2020 
This article has been updated with comments from various unions.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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