Wage talks are expected to get under way at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council in September. Picture: REUTERS
Wage talks are expected to get under way at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council in September. Picture: REUTERS

The weak economy, political instability and high cost of living are some of the factors that are expected to make 2017’s public sector negotiations the "most difficult" to date.

Trade unions are gearing up for an uphill battle but have vowed they would not succumb to pressure to accept inflation-based wage offers from the government, despite the weak state of the economy.

Curbing the government’s wage bill is one of the proposals that make up Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s recently launched action plan to lift growth. The first commitment of the 14-point plan instructs the government to finalise a "sustainable wage agreement".

Wage talks are expected to get under way at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council in September ahead of the expiration of the current agreement in March 2018.

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told Business Day the federation was against the Treasury’s plan, saying workers would not be sacrificial lambs and be expected to demand anything below a living wage.

"The negotiations this time are not going to be easy because of the state of the economy and the country. They come on the eve of the elections and at a time when there is a leadership transition both in government and politically, in the ANC."

Meanwhile, the Public Servants Association (PSA), which represents 230,000 public sector employees, said it was also ready to defend the right of workers to demand a double-digit increase.

The PSA’s Ivan Fredericks argued that public funds were wasted through corruption and bail-outs of mismanaged state-owned firms. He said the state was able to afford a "decent" increase for its employees.

In 2015, unions and the government settled for a 7% wage increase and 28.5% medical aid contribution increase after lengthy negotiations, which almost led to a strike.

"We are going in there expecting something substantial from them and will not allow them to say there is no money, especially in light of how money is being spent," said Fredericks.

The Federation of Unions of SA general secretary Dennis George said the economy was in decline because of President Jacob Zuma and the government should take "full responsibility for that".

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za

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