The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) says it is ready to fight attempts by the Treasury to cap the public sector wage bill by freezing salaries.

The union said it would also oppose suggestions that its members only receive wage hikes related to the consumer price index (CPI).

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba was quoted in Sunday’s City Press as saying he was considering freezing the salaries of senior public employees from middle management upwards.

"That is not going to happen," said Nehawu deputy general secretary December Mavuso.

Nehawu said Gigaba should rather tackle cases of wasteful expenditure in order to cut back on government spending amid a R50bn budget shortfall.

"Workers are not stupid, communities are not stupid. We can’t be blackmailed…. If it comes to a crunch, we are going to fight," said Mavuso.

We will outright reject any austerity measure that will affect workers because of the looting spree that has been taking place

The union berated the government for including the Cabinet’s plans for public sector wage issues in the medium-term budget policy statement, saying this was equal to negotiating in bad faith as the feedback had not been provided to the unions after they tabled demands to the government almost a month ago.

Government negotiators cancelled a bargaining council meeting set for October 20, during which it was expected to issue a counter-offer to workers after unions tabled a demand of 10% wage hikes for the highest-paid public servants and 12% for the lowest paid.

In the medium-term budget policy statement, the Treasury said the shortfall in compensation budgets would "deteriorate substantially" if public sector wage talks led to a deal that exceeded CPI inflation.

"A CPI + 1 agreement would raise the national shortfall in 2018-19 to R8.2bn, with the gap in provincial compensation budgets amounting to R4bn.

"At this level, a three-year agreement would push the national shortfall to R11.8bn by 2020-21, and provincial compensation spending would need to increase by R12.7bn," read the policy statement.

Mavuso said Nehawu would fight tooth and nail for a double-digit increase for its members, despite the Treasury’s statement on the shortfall.

"We will outright reject any austerity measure that will affect workers because of the looting spree that has been taking place," he said.

"We are already aware that Treasury intends to reduce government’s wage bill by introducing headcount reduction … we will fight tooth and nail."

The Treasury rejected Nehawu’s stance. Gigaba’s spokesman, Mayihlome Tshwete, said the issues were still to be discussed following a commitment by the parties to the National Economic Development and Labour Council.

"All we have committed to is to have discussions. No decision has been made — nothing has been proposed," he said.


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