It’s their fault: Negotiator Mugwena Maluleke blames the delay on bureaucratic inefficiency. Picture: SUPPLIED
It’s their fault: Negotiator Mugwena Maluleke blames the delay on bureaucratic inefficiency. Picture: SUPPLIED

The government’s delay in presenting a wage offer to public servants is a recipe for an unnecessary strike, according to union federation Cosatu.

The Department of Public Service and Administration, which heads the government’s mandating committee, has again failed to present a wage offer to public sector unions, asking this time for a postponement until December 7, with negotiators claiming they had no mandate. The government was expected to report back to unions last Thursday after requesting a postponement in October.

Negotiators from the department receive mandates from a committee of ministers, including their own Faith Muthambi and Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba. Unions usually wait for the medium-term budget policy statement before starting wage negotiations, in order to allow the Treasury to conduct its own feasibility studies and draw up cost measures.

Despite there being an agreement on the running order of negotiations, the government has repeatedly failed to stick to deadlines, even though Gigaba has already set out the government’s budgetary plans.

It has been two months since the unions presented a wage demand for a 12% increase for employees on levels four to seven, 11% for those on levels eight to 10, and 10% for those on levels 11 and 12.

Last Wednesday, the acting director-general of the Department of Public Service and Administration, Willie Vukela, told Parliament that it would cost the government R282bn — a figure sourced from the Treasury — to deliver on the wage demands. Statistics SA earlier reported that the wage bill stood at R137bn in 2015-16.

The Public Service Association (PSA) said that it was puzzling that even with this information, the government still claimed to have no position to present to labour.

Cosatu lead negotiator and South African Democratic Teachers Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke told Business Day that workers were suffering from "deliberate bureaucratic inefficiency".

He cited the lack of political will by employers and a leadership crisis at the department as two of the reasons that would lead workers onto the streets. The delays had affected the trust between unions and employer at the bargaining council. "There is no reason for this delay but a question of political will.... The only thing that can drive successful negotiations is the trust in exchange of information.

"They cannot explain this particular delay; they have heard pronouncements and they have something on their hands that they are supposed to present to unions," Maluleke said.

The PSA’s assistant general manager, Tahir Maepa, warned that the government’s approach to the negotiations indicated the process would be troublesome.

The PSA accused the government of negotiating through the media, because information regarding the affordability of the wage demands had been shared in a number of platforms but not with the bargaining council, which was where labour was awaiting a response.

"The PSA will not be swayed during wage negotiations to compromise the livelihood of its members because of the employer’s bullying tactics."

Maluleke said he was also concerned that the delays would lead to the imposition of policy decisions on workers without allowing for a thorough negotiating process.

Another sore point for unions is that they have been here before. Similar challenges were faced during 2014 wage talks, which concluded a three-year agreement. That agreement will lapse in April 2018.

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