Public wage clash may end up in court as unions reject latest offer
As time runs out for negotiations with the government over the decision to slash public sector wages, possible court action looms, with Cosatu unions have taken a recent offer from the employer to its members for a decision.
Finance minister Tito Mboweni in his February budget announced the government's decision to cut the public sector wage bill dramatically. The salary cuts were pencilled into the budget as part of a bid to help deal with the budget deficit and the state's crippling debt.
The announcement over the cuts in the 2020/2021 budget would necessitate changes to the multi-term wage agreement which was already signed in 2018 and was set to conclude in 2020.
However, public sector trade unions took the government's announcement, which was made before any unions were on board, as a declaration of war. Last week the employer made an offer at the Public Service Co-co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) of an increase of 4.4% for workers on employment levels one to eight, while there was no increase for levels nine to 16 offered.
To be able to pay for the inflation-related hike, the government proposed to use the funds that would be used to give 1.5% performance-related increases in 2021/2022.
All of the public sector unions rejected the new offer last week.
On Friday the Public Servants Association of SA (PSA) placed the employer on terms in a letter from its lawyers to demand that the 2018 agreement be adhered to.
The PSA said in the letter that the government was bound by the agreement signed in 2018 and should the department fail to implement the agreed salary adjustments, which would take effect on Wednesday, it reserved its rights.
“The PSA reserves all its right, including to launch proceedings against the department in the appropriate forum in terms of which the PSA will seek the necessary relief,” the union said in the letter sent to public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu said.
The original agreement held that workers on level one to seven would get projected CPI plus 1%, level eight to 10 would get projected CPI plus 0.5%, while level 11 to 12 would only get projected CPI.
Mugwena Maluleke, chief negotiator for Cosatu’s public sector unions, on Sunday said members were consulted over the weekend and that the different Cosatu public sector unions — part of the joint mandating committee — were expected to have a teleconference on Monday.
Maluleke said they had asked the unions to consult its members, including about whether to invoke the agreement's dispute resolution mechanism.
“We have also asked them if they would want to consider the options (given by government), though they rejected that (last week) we still want them to ask members to look at the particular options,” he said.