Public servants still in limbo over wage increase saga
Pubic-sector unions may turn to the courts if the government doesn’t honour a wage agreement signed in 2018
Public servants, including healthcare workers on the front-line of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, are still in limbo over whether they will receive their salary increases in line with a standing wage agreement when their pay cheques come in on Wednesday.
The government and organised labour has been at loggerheads over the implementation of the final year of a three-year wage agreement for public servants signed in 2018. This was after finance minister Tito Mboweni took a scalpel to the public wage bill in the 2020/2021 budget and penciled in huge cuts, which organised labour in the public sector took as a declaration of war.
The government has made a revised offer of a 4.4% pay increase for workers on employment levels one to eight, and no increases for levels nine to 16, but this has been rejected.
While the Public Servants Association of SA (PSA) has reserved its rights if the original 2018 agreement is not implemented, and union federation Cosatu public-sector unions have declared a formal dispute at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), the unions say are still none the wiser as to what will be paid to their members come April 15, as the increases would have been implemented from April 1.
However, Reuben Maleka, assistant GM of the PSA, said on Thursday afternoon that it seems unlikely the deal will be implemented for April. This comes after the department of public service and administration’s director-general Yoliswa Makhasi sent a letter to the PSA on Thursday, drawing attention to the revised March offer, which was rejected.
Makhasi said she hopes the PSA “will consider coming back to the council to continue engagements through council processes”.
“With that kind of response it appears as if there won’t be any increases as they expect us to go back to the PSCBC, which can only happen after the lockdown, which is after the salary payment has passed,” Maleka said.
Earlier on Thursday the PSA said in a statement that it was issuing a “stern warning” to public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu to confirm that the 2018 wage agreement will be implemented. Mchunu has only said in a media statement released late in March that the state is committed to implementing the agreement.
The PSA said Mchunu has been asked to confirm that all public servants would receive their increases on April 15, but has failed to do so.
“This uncertainty comes at a critical time, when the minister and the government are calling on employees at the forefront of delivering essential services to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the PSA said.
Patience running out
The PSA said it has, to date, co-operated with the minister by ensuring that the union’s members — which amount to more than 240,000 state employees — continue to render services despite various challenging conditions that pose both health and safety risks. “The union is, however, aware that its members’ patience is fast running out.”
The union said it sees Mchunu’s ongoing failure to provide a “firm commitment” that public servants will receive their salaries as provided for the 2018 agreement as “seriously disrespectful”.
The PSA emphasised that it has briefed attorneys to approach the court for relief, but called on the government to abide by the agreement as “failure to implement the last leg of the three-year salary agreement without delay will have serious repercussions”.
Mugwena Maluleke, chief negotiator for the Cosatu unions, said he has not heard back from the PSCBC about the dispute.
The matter is further complicated by the national lockdown, but Maluleke said the matter is very urgent and the bargaining council should call a special sitting, which can be held via digital platforms so that arguments dealing with the dispute can be made.
He said this should happen before Wednesday so that the unions can report to their members whether the dispute has been resolved or not, adding that he has only had acknowledgement of receipt from the department and the PSCBC, but that no date has been set down yet.
Legal advice given to Cosatu is that the unions should first exhaust all internal processes before they make their way to court.
Maluleke said the absence of a commitment is also indicative of what might come. “If you keep quiet, it says you have already taken a decision in favour of not paying.”
Update: April 9 2020
This article has been updated with PSA and departmental comment.