Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. Picture: GCIS
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. Picture: GCIS

Labour minister Mildred Oliphant has chastised public sector unions for allowing the Treasury to raise the threat of retrenchments as a bargaining tool during the 2018 wage negotiations.

During her address to the Public Sector Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) indaba on Tuesday, Oliphant said the Treasury had suggested during the negotiations that 30,000 state employees would be retrenched in order for the government to afford wage hikes.

Eventually, the government and unions settled on 7.5% increases for more than 1-million public servants for 2018.

Although the government agreed during the jobs summit that it would freeze job cuts, organised labour has used the alleged plan by the government to cut 30,000 jobs to leverage its calls for a moratorium on retrenchments.

Oliphant questioned why organised labour had entertained the job cuts, which were not “a position of government” during the negotiations. The government was eager to prove it had no intention to retrench 30,000 people in the public sector after media reports in August pointed to the planned retrenchments, while angry trade union leaders said they were shocked by the news.

“The challenge is that during the bargaining when the workers said 'we demand so much percentage' and the response by the Treasury [was] 'if you want so much, we will be forced to retrench 30,000 workers'.

“Why did you allow the situation of an issue which was not part of your demands or the response by the employer to [be discussed]. We should not allow issues that will come through, not informed by discussions from the beginning,” she said.

Oliphant has been criticising trade unions over their neglect of workers’ interests in recent months. In September she told delegates at Cosatu’s national congress that union representatives lacked the basic knowledge required to be of use to workers.

Federation of Unions of SA general secretary Dennis George said the Treasury had acted mischievously and jeorpadised collective bargaining. Treasury officials form part of the government’s negotiating team during wage talks.

“For [the] Treasury to make these announcements that 30,000 public servants [will be retrenched] is mischievous and jeorpadises collective bargaining. It says to us that the Treasury wants to come and dictate, and that is not the way things should be done,” George said.

The indaba will review current bargaining mechanisms at the PSCBC.

Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi said the council and its members had to monitor the implementation of resolutions to avoid facing challenges similar to those experienced in private sector collective bargaining.

Losi reviewed agreements made in the eight years since the PSCBC last held a public service summit, pointing to resolutions to conduct an audit of all vacant posts; the decentralisation of procurement at local government, especially in hospitals; and a study of performance management systems. Many of the targets she raised were not achieved.