Wage offer exposes cracks in Cosatu as teachers’ union breaks ranks
Sadtu OKs revised 3% wage offer
Cracks within labour federation Cosatu are widening, with the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) breaking ranks with other public service unions with its support for the government’s revised final 3% wage offer for the country’s more than 1.3-million public servants.
Cosatu’s other public service unions, including the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), rejected the revised offer during a recent national march to the Union Buildings.
The cracks in Cosatu were evident during its national elective congress in Midrand last week when federation members were divided about dumping the ANC and supporting the SA Communist Party (SACP) for the 2024 election.
Sadtu’s stance takes finance minister Enoch Godongwana a step closer to bringing certainty about the direction of the public sector wage bill, one of his biggest spending headaches. The wage bill threatens to undermine his pledge to keep spending in check and it is closely watched by ratings agencies.
Sadtu president Magope Maphila, in his opening address at the union’s national general council, said most members were in support of the revised offer of 3% tabled recently at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) by the department of public service & administration. Sadtu has a membership of about 260,000.
Unions demanded a 10% wage increase when negotiations began in May, but trimmed the figure down to 6.5% to match the headline inflation rate the Reserve Bank has forecast for 2022. The government started by tabling a 1.5% offer, which it increased to 2% and included a R1,000 after-tax cash gratuity, which it argued equated to 6.5% when combined.
It then increased its offer to a final 3% to match the increase offered recently to ministers and their deputies, premiers, MPs, judges and other office holders. Unions were given 21 days in August to get a mandate from their members.
PSCBC general secretary Frikkie de Bruin said on Tuesday that the bargaining council held a special meeting in which parties noted the 21-day period had lapsed. Cosatu’s largest unions, including the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), Popcru and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa), indicated they were in dispute and would “be invoking the dispute resolution procedure of council”.
The Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA (Hospersa), an affiliate of the Federation of Unions of SA, also rejected the offer.
De Bruin said the council noted that the Public Servants Association (PSA) and the SA Policing Union (Sapu) “had earlier declared a dispute and their disputes remain unresolved and certificates of non-resolution were issued”.
He said the bargaining council was now awaiting the dispute referral forms from Nehawu, Popcru, Denosa and Hospersa.
“We will also call on PSA to discuss picketing rules and sit down with Sapu to discuss the arbitration process as Sapu is an essential service.
“As council, we will continue to encourage parties to resolve their differences and come to an amicable solution for the impasse,” De Bruin said.
Sadtu is joined by National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA and the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie, both of which have said they are prepared to sign the wage deal.
At the national general council, which meets at least once in five years to ratify decisions of Sadtu’s national executive committee and adopt policy issues between national congresses, Maphila insisted that the government’s revised final offer of 3%, the after-tax cash gratuity and the 1.5% pay progression hike, which is linked to years of service and is always pencilled into the budget, equated to more than 6% when combined.
“Seven out of nine provinces of Sadtu gave the current offer the thumbs up... The minority will subject themselves to the will of the majority,” Maphila told delegates.
He said the longer the delay in accepting the offer, the more likely the department “might end up withdrawing that offer, that would be a sad day”. He said the offer was good considering the crisis the country is facing.
Nehawu and Popcru, which are among unions making up the bulk of Cosatu’s 1.6-million membership, were in favour of Cosatu taking an immediate decision to dump the ANC and support the SACP during the labour federation’s four-day congress last week, while Sadtu was in favour of a consultative conference in 2023.
“The contradictions we find at Cosatu ... do not mean running away from your own home when it’s difficult ... We were being divided whether we must ditch the ANC in the 2024 elections,” said Maphila.
Update: October 4 2023
This article has been updated with new information.
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