Public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The government is committed to implementing wage increases on April 1 despite the socioeconomic challenges the country is facing, public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu says.

Public service unions expressed concern on Monday over the uncertainty about wage increases, saying they will only know on April 15, when the first batch of salaries go through, whether the government has stuck to its part of the deal.

Mchunu’s statements were meant to allay uncertainty over wage increases for public servants. However, the public sector unions are unconvinced and have vowed to mount a legal challenge to force him to adhere to the wage agreement signed by parties in the public service bargaining chamber in 2018.  

The unions want the government to implement the last leg of the three-year wage agreement signed in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) in 2018.

In the 2018 deal, the government agreed to pay employees on levels one to eight, comprising general workers and support staff, an increase of 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%.

The public sector unions have rejected Mchunu’s revised offer of a 4.4% pay increase for workers on employment levels one to eight, and no increases for levels nine to 16.

Junk status

To be able to pay for the inflation-related hike, the government proposed to divert funds that would have been used to give 1.5% performance-related increases in 2021-2022.

Mchunu said the Covid-19 pandemic and downgrading of SA’s credit rating to junk status by Moody’s Investors Service are piling “more anguish on the economy which is already in recession”.

“These matters require dedication, understanding and commitment from all sides,” said Mchunu. “Accordingly, we want to reiterate that government remains committed to the implementation of the 2018 wage agreement notwithstanding the aforesaid difficulties.”

At stake was how to implement the wage increases and “this matters [the] most”, he said, adding there are no shortcuts, and options are “extremely limited”.

The Public Servants Association of SA (PSA), the country’s second-largest public sector union with more than 240,000 members, said it is outraged by Mchunu’s response which it views as a “delaying tactic and tantamount to cat-and-mouse games”.

Legal action

The PSA said it will instruct its attorneys to proceed with legal action if the April 1 deadline to increase salaries is not met.

Reuben Maleka, assistant GM of the PSA, said the union will proceed with legal action “as of Wednesday” to force the minister to implement the wage agreement.

“We can’t wait while it’s clear that no implementation [will] happen. No implementation directives are being issued,” said Maleka.

He said this was a clear sign that public servants’ salaries will not be increased, because the department would normally publish new salary scales and adjustments before the implementation date, which was not the case now.

“On Wednesday we are going to serve court papers [on] Mchunu and litigation starts. We have to litigate and push for implementation [of the wage agreement] as soon as possible,” said Maleka.

Maleka said the union was surprised by Mchunu’s response that the government is committed to implementing the 2018 agreement while it has “indicated that the agreement will not be implemented”.

“The PSA finds it disturbing that the minister is still avoiding answering a direct question from PSA on whether [the agreement] will be implemented,” Maleka said.

Zola Saphetha, general secretary of SA’s largest public sector union, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), said the union has “formally declared a dispute” with the employer that will culminate in Cosatu’s public service unions approaching the courts to force Mchunu to implement the agreement.

Thobile Ntola, general secretary of the SA Liberated Public-Sector Workers Union, an affiliate of the SA Federation of Trade Unions, said it is becoming clearer that this matter “is not going to be child’s play” and that Covid-19 “will be used for public sympathy in favour of the state ... to plunge public servants into a deep sea of poverty and debt”.

Ntola said if the government fails to implement the agreement on Wednesday, the union will follow proper processes to lodge grievances before considering a strike, as it is a last resort.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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