Two weeks before their payday, public servants are still in the dark about their salaries and whether the government will stick to the three-year wage agreement it signed with their unions.
Trade union federation Cosatu said on Monday it will know of the government’s decision only on April 1 when the first group of public servants receive their salaries.
In the agreement penned with the public service unions, the government agreed to pay levels one to eight employees, who comprise general workers and support staff, a projected consumer price index (CPI) plus 1%. It also agreed to pay levels nine to 16, made up of assistant directors up to directors-general, a projected CPI plus 0.5%.
Mugwena Maluleke, chief negotiator for Cosatu’s public sector unions, told Business Day on Monday they will only know on April 1 if the government has honoured the 2018 agreement to increase their salaries.
“We will respond at that moment, but now we have not decided what to do” except to follow processes in the Public Sector Co-ordinating Bargaining Council.
In the bargaining council last week, public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu made an offer of a 4.4% pay increase for workers on employment levels one to eight, while there was no increase for levels nine to 16 offered.
To be able to pay for the inflation-related hike, the government proposed to divert the funds that would be used to give 1.5% performance-related increases in 2021/2022.
However, all of the public sector unions rejected the new offer.
Mchunu did not respond to requests for comment. His spokesperson, Vukani Mbhele, also declined to comment, saying the department was still engaging the unions.
Reuben Maleka, assistant GM of SA’s second-largest public sector union, the Public Servants Association of SA, said they had put Mchunu on terms to honour the wage agreement signed in 2018. “Failing which we will approach the court to ensure implementation of the agreement.”
Zola Saphetha, general secretary of SA’s largest public sector union, the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, said they will have a teleconference of Cosatu public sector unions on Monday to discuss the latest developments.
“We are saying all what has been agreed to in the past should be honoured by the state. This is no longer a dispute of interest, but of right. It’s the right of workers to get an increment,” said Thobile Ntola, general secretary of the SA Liberated Public-Sector Workers Union, an affiliate of the SA Federation of Trade Unions.
Ntola said if the government fails to increase worker salaries on April 1, they will follow proper processes to lodge their grievances before considering a strike.
“At all material times a strike should be the last weapon to be used by workers.”
He said the government’s previous offer of 0% increase indicated that the road ahead would be difficult.
“This impasse is telling us that it’s going to be hard in the coming years, given the state of the economy. Already, the number of public service [workers] is declining. The ratio of teachers to learners and of nurses to patients is increasing. This will result in poor public services across education, health and municipalities.”