Members of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA are shown during a protest. File photo: WERNER HILLS
Members of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA are shown during a protest. File photo: WERNER HILLS

The 21-day national lockdown aimed at limiting Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works for public sector unions eager to down tools should the government not increase their salaries on April 1.

The unions who stated their clear intention of going on strike should the state not implement the last leg of the 2018 wage agreement signed include the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), SA’s largest public service union. The Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw) have also thrown in their lot with Nehawu, saying they were willing to down tools if the government showed “disdain” to public servants by refusing to adjust their salaries.

The unions have said the government presented “its plan of implementing 0% salary increase for the public servant” during their last meeting at the public service co-ordinating bargaining council (PSCBC) last week on Tuesday.

Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha told Business Day that the parties will meet at the PSCBC again on Wednesday to try and find each other. They would then meet as the Nehawu leadership afterwards to determine the next course of action “in light of the lockdown”.

Nupsaw general secretary Success Mataitsane was more vocal: “The strike action has been suspended until the lockdown is over. We don’t know why we are being called into the PSCBC again because we have made it clear that we are not interested in 0% increase.”

Mataitsane said they are angry that the government is “punishing” public servants for state corruption “done by people who are still roaming the streets despite overwhelming evidence being revealed at the state capture commission. In the PSCBC on Wednesday we are still going to tell them the same story that we don’t accept 0% increase. The public service and administration minister [Senzo Mchunu] did table 0% increase on Tuesday last week.”

He said unions have always favoured a one-year wage agreement against the government’s multiyear wage deals.

Denosa acting general secretary Cassim Lekhoathi read but did not respond to a message asking for comment.

Mchunu would only say he did not want to speculate what will happen on April 1 as the matter is “too sensitive and serious for speculation”.

At the first meeting of the PSCBC since the February budget, detailed plans to cut the wage bill by R160bn over three years were announced. According to the existing agreement, on April 1, pay should rise at consumer price index (CPI) plus 1% for the first eight grades of the bargaining unit; and at CPI plus 0.5% for the higher grades.

In addition, all employees should receive notch increases equal to about 1% of pay. This would cut R37.8bn from the wage bill in 2020/2021, Treasury officials said in February. Should the cuts not be achieved for 2020/2021, the fiscal deficit, which would rise to 6.8%, will widen by an additional percentage point, according to the Treasury. Moody’s Investors Service, which could make a rating decision on SA at the end of March, has expressed doubt that the government will meet these targets.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za