Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu. Picture: SOWETAN
Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu. Picture: SOWETAN

Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu will face off with angry union leaders next Tuesday at a meeting aimed at averting a potential wage strike by about 1.3-million public servants in SA.

The meeting, expected to run until April 30, will be held at the public sector co-ordinating bargaining council (PSCBC) and comes about two weeks after the government reneged on a multiyear wage agreement signed in the council in 2018.

The first batch of public servants including nurses, pharmacists and lab technicians received their salaries on Wednesday last week without the increase agreed on in the last leg of the agreement. Unions said this proved that the state did not value their hard work considering these employees were very crucial to the country's battle against Covid-19.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni announced in his February budget statement  that about R160bn would be cut from the wage bill over the next three years. The government, however, did not bring unions on board before the cuts were pencilled into the budget, leading to some unionists describing the move as “a declaration of war”.

In the 2018 wage deal, signed in the PSCBC, the government agreed to pay level 1-8 employees, comprising general workers and support staff, an increase of the projected consumer price index (CPI) plus 1%. It also agreed to pay levels 9-16, made up of assistant directors to directors-general, a projected CPI plus 0.5%.

Before President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to impose a lockdown from March 27, the government had hoped to renegotiate the third year of the wage agreement and projected a saving of R37.8bn in 2020.

In March, Mchunu indicated that the state was committed to implementing wage increases on April 1. While the government did put out a revised offer of a 4.4% pay increase for some levels of workers, unions rejected this and elected to lodge a dispute in the PSCBC.

“We appreciate the urgency applied by the council on this matter considering the disappointment and anger of our members for not getting their salary increase on April 15 as stipulated in the [wage] agreement,” Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said.

He stressed that they would do everything in their power to fight the government for “reversing the gains of our members and disregarding binding collective bargaining agreements”.

“Nehawu will use all resources available at its disposal to defend its members against the onslaught by government,” said Saphetha.

“This is a fight we are not prepared to lose and government must brace itself for a relentless war in defence of our members and workers in general.”

Mchunu’s spokesperson, Vukani Mbhele, said he would only comment when the matter was finalised. “Let’s wait for the matter to be finalised,” he said.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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