NEHAWU To Intensify It's Strike on 13th March 2023
NEHAWU Statement On Developments of The Public Service Strike
Sunday March 12, 2023
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] has convened this press conference for purposes of updating members, public service workers and the public about the latest developments in relation to our national strike which include amongst others; the legality of our strike and the facilitation process at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council [PSCBC] to resolve the dispute.
We start our statement by saluting all our members and workers in the public service for waging a relentless struggle in the public service by keeping our strike and picket lines strong and peaceful in defence of collective bargaining and rights of workers.
We further appreciate and thank all the solidarity and invaluable messages of support received since the commencement of our strike from our sister unions both here at home and abroad, the working-class formations, civic and community based organisations and the public.
The 2022/23 Wage Dispute
From Monday morning, the 6th of March 2023, the national union embarked on an industrial action as a result of the collapsed wage negotiations, continuous implementation of austerity measures and the aggressive attack on collective bargaining by the government.
In the main, this was in response to the employer’s unilateral implementation of 3% wage increase for the 2022/23 financial year in the middle of an unresolved dispute and the defence of collective bargaining.
This collapse has really brought new escalation of miseries, pains and suffocations that threatens their historic gains and meagre livelihood to public service workers and their families.
In November 2022, the employer went on to unilaterally implement a 3% salary increment that was rejected by majority unions at the PSCBC. The unilateral implementation of the 3% increase in the middle of the dispute represented yet another attack on the collective bargaining as it happened to the last leg of Resolution 1 of 2018 in 2022.
To put the imposed 3% wage increase in perspective, we have to remind the public that:
• In 2020/21 the public servants suffered a major wage cut as a result of the employer’s decision to renege on the implementation of clause 3.3 of Resolution 1 of 2018. Let’s not forget that this cruel decision was taken in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when the entire population largely relied on the sacrifices and diligence of the public servants in the frontlines of service delivery, especially the healthcare workers. • In 2021/22 the employer merely offered a non-pensionable R1000 cash gratuity and no increase in the salary baseline. This meant that on average public servant lost about 4.5% in the value of their salary as a result of inflation, which also affected salary notches and the total package of their future pension pay-outs.
The 2022/23 offer is still in dispute, hence our strike. We are resolute in rejecting 3% given the average inflation rate of nearly 7% in the 2022/23 financial year.
We could not jump into a new wage bargaining round for 2023/24 when the employer has effectively just unilaterally imposed a wage cut of 4% in the pay-packet of an average public servant.
At stake is not just the wage dispute of 2022/23 - it is also collective bargaining given the unilateralism that is now prevailing in the public sector.
As NEHAWU, we also want to put the employer on notice that we are now in consultation with our lawyers over this imposition of 3% for the 2022/23 financial year.
We want to draw the public to the attention of the fact that clause 3.3 of Resolution 1 of 2021 states that “if no new agreement is reached by 31 March 2022 on the 2022/2023 salary adjustment, this non-pensionable cash allowance shall remain in force until a new agreement is entered into by the parties”.
There was no new agreement on the 2022/2023 salary adjustment and therefore the employer is once again in violation of the agreement that it has signed.
As NEHAWU, we remain unwavering and consistent in rejecting unilateralism and the erosion of collective bargaining in South Africa.
There is a growing tendency and deliberate efforts to undermine collective bargaining aimed at rendering the PSCBC devoid of power and purpose as this is more evident now. Indeed, the government is resolute on withering away collective bargaining.
The Employer’s 2023/24 Wage Offer
In the middle of the current dispute of the 2022/23 financial year, the employer opportunistically embarked on the 2023/24 public service wage negotiations – wherein they are effectively offering public servants an insulting 0.5% salary increment.
They even have the audacity to mislead and confuse workers and public by stating that their offer is 4.7%, whereas they just converted the cash-gratuity that workers have been receiving into the baseline.
We need to clarify that the percentage that the employer is actually offering is a mere 0.5 % due to the fact that the gratuity [4.2%] will now go into the baseline – which means that the workers are once again robbed by the government.
In addition, the conversion of the R1 000 cash gratuity into a 4.2% wage increase to the pensionable baseline is going to be regressive and therefore at the expense of the workers in the lower salary levels. For example, a 4.2% increase on the salary of R15 000 would amount to R630. Therefore, the 4.7% offer is effectively another pay-cut – as it falls far below the current inflation rate which is at 6.9%.
Attack on collective bargaining and the right to strike
As NEHAWU, we reiterate once again that this 6th Administration is hell-bent on destroying collective bargaining, rights of workers and made it as its task to reverse and roll-back the gains made by workers over the years.
This is evident through numerous actions and continuous appetite of approaching labour courts in resolving matters of collective bargaining as oppose of taking an advantage of institutions of dialogue such as bargaining councils, etc.
Having noticed that the union is resolute and firm in its pursuit of the strike, the government decided to approach the courts to interdict our national strike. On the eve of the commencement of the strike, the Department of Public Service and Administration [DPSA] approached the Labour Court filing an urgent interdict against the strike. The court granted DPSA the order.
We immediately filed an appeal on that order which meant that, by implication Rule 18 of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013 kicked in – this rule automatically suspends the operation of the court order until the leave to appeal is determined and thereby allowing us to commence with our strike.
Once again, the DPSA urgently approached the court to file for an urgent application for the execution of the order. The matter was heard on Monday 6th March 2023 and judgement was delivered on the same day with the department being granted an execution order.
The union subsequently launched an automatic appeal at the Labour Appeal Court [LAC] in terms of Rule 18 of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013 which also suspended the operation of the execution of order by Justice Van Niekerk.
On Friday, the 10th March, the Labour Appeal Court heard our appeal on the execution order of the interdict by DPSA and after hearing all arguments it reserved judgement until Monday 13 March 2023. The national union will await judgement and will immediately meet our lawyers for legal recourse to be considered.
As NEHAWU, we remain resolute that no amount of litigation or intimidation by the government will deter us from this noble worthy cause that we have embarked on - fighting for public servants, defending collective bargaining and rights of workers.
It is the fact that in the course of the last few days, the strike has registered some victories, key amongst these victories is the PSCBC facilitation process which forces government go back to 2022/23 discussions on salaries of public service.
At the same time, we have managed to engage with several provincial health department and this led to institutional managements and our structures working out modalities to ensure access to hospital services by our communities.
We must draw the public’s attention to the fact that to this day, since the promulgation of the Labour Relation Act, the employer has been refusing to engage on a framework for the Minimum Service Level Agreement. They have been bogged down in their position of depriving public servants their right to strike.
On the 07th March 2023, the PSCBC invited the union along with other parties in dispute to the facilitation process in order to try and break the impasse or the strike action that commenced on the 06th March 2023.
Indeed, we met with the employer on Friday the 10 -11 March 2023 through the facilitated where we presented our issues and the employer replied by saying that they were not averse to the process. To our dismay the negotiators of employer made U-turn when we thought that we are registering progress by indicating that they are no longer interested in negotiating a settlement agreement to resolve the impasse.
The employer arrogantly demanded that we must drop the dispute process and return to the council to engage on the 2023/2024 public service wage negotiations. Again this is another demonstration of how far government is prepared to undermine and collapsed collective bargaining and dispute resolution mechanism by imposing their will on workers.
We are aware that certain Ministers inside the Mandating Committee of the employer have refused to support the new Minister, Noxolo Kiviet to resolve the impasse. Instead they engage in tactics to divide unions and we want warn them that this approach is regressive and will collapse the public service.
At the onset of the facilitation process we were upfront in trying to resolve the dispute by tabling a proposed settlement agreement which entailed, amongst others:
• Cessation of Hostilities which was meant to see parties agreeing on resolving the strike and talking to relevant issues linked to hostilities.
• Defending the Council and Collective Bargaining which meant that the parties would agree on defending the PSCBC and as such the unions that are currently not part of the 2023/24 round of collective bargaining to return to the council and participate fully.
• Augmentation of the 2022 increase which meant that the State having unilaterally implemented 3% salary increment for 2022/2023 financial year, will augment the 3% with a percentage to be agreed by parties.
• Minimum Service Level Agreement, that parties agrees that the long outstanding issue of the minimum service level agreement be concluded in council within six months.
As NEHAWU, we want to register that its becoming quite clear to us that despite all our efforts to resolve the dispute, the government is not interested in concluding the 2022/2023 dispute as they argued that they have closed and concluded the negotiations in that financial year.
This was despite the fact that there was no resolution for that financial year but rather a unilateral implementation of the 3% which was way below the CPI.
With this arrogance displayed by government, it is important to confirm that NEHAWU continues with the strike in a more intensified manner as from tomorrow, Monday the 13th March 2023 to demonstrate to government the seriousness with which we take the concerted effort to underplay the role and significance of public servants who are at the coalface of service delivery.
We have a duty to protect and defend collective bargaining and the rights of workers in the face of the employer’s drive to degrade and break it down. Section 23 of the Constitution on the right to strike is sacrosanct for us.
Indeed, this government continues to show us the middle finger and display high level of arrogance as it totally disregarding workers plight even with this ongoing facilitation process at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council, hence the strike continues until the government accede to our demands. It’s Aluta Continua! Workers have endured for far too long the brutally meted against them by this callous government.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat
Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968;
December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969;
Lwazi Nkolonzi (NEHAWU National Spokesperson) at 081 558 2335 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org