Picture: ROBERT BOTHA
Picture: ROBERT BOTHA

The SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), the biggest local government union representing about 160,000 workers, has revised its wage demands as it seeks to hammer out a new wage deal without having to resort to strike action.

The SA Local Government Association (Salga), representing the country’s 257 municipalities, and unions met at the SA Local Bargaining Council last week for another round of negotiations, during which Samwu tabled its revised demands.

Samwu had been demanding a one-year wage agreement of a R4,000 salary increase across the board; a R15,000 minimum wage; R3,500 housing allowance; 80% employer medical aid contribution; 25% employer contribution towards a pension; and six months paid maternity leave and one month paid paternity leave.

According to an internal circular to Samwu provincial secretaries, which Business Day has seen, the union is now demanding a R2,500 wage increase or 7%, whichever is greater. This is still higher than the 3.2% inflation rate recorded in March and the 4.3% average the Reserve Bank expects for 2021.

The union has also revised its R3,500 housing allowance demand down to R2,000.

Samwu deputy general secretary Dumisane Magagula wrote in a circular that it rejected Salga’s original 2.8% wage increase offer, saying the employer “indicated that they may adjust [the offer] up to 3%, which was still unacceptable under the current economic environment”.

He said the employer had not improved convincingly on the revised offer, “but, so far, we might secure a single-year agreement”.

Magagula called on Samwu structures and members to consider the adjusted demands and report back by May 31, ahead of the next round of talks from June 3-4.

Samwu’s revised demands come barely a week after the union berated Salga for “creating an impression” that parties in the bargaining council are “warming up to each other” and that an agreement will be reached soon. Magagula did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Mark Gericke, regional manager of the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu), said it has not revised its demand of a 9% wage hike or R2,500, whichever is greater. “We are starting to run out of time,” he said, pointing out that a new wage deal needs to be in place by July 1.

Contrary to Samwu’s circular, Salga spokesperson Sivuyile Mbambato said: “Salga has not formally revised its position at the bargaining council as per the recent round of 2021 salary and wage negotiations.”

Salga CEO Xolile George has called on municipalities to hike salaries in line with available resources, saying failure to do so would constitute financial misconduct.

In July 2020, most municipalities started to implement a multi-year agreement that raised wages by 6.25% a year, which some had not budgeted for. The Treasury warned it would compromise their fiscal framework and the delivery of services.

The Treasury embarked on a collision course with unions in 2020 by calling on municipalities to apply for exemption from implementing standing wage agreements.

This was after finance minister Tito Mboweni announced deep cuts to the public-sector wage bill — totaling R300bn over the medium term — a decision the unions said was tantamount to a “declaration of war”.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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