Public Service Unions On The Course Of Action Over The 2022/2023 Wage Dispute
Thursday February 16, 2023
The trade unions organising in the Public Service, which includes POPCRU, NEHAWU, DENOSA, SAEPU, PAWUSA, SAMATU, NUPSAW and SAPU have called this media briefing for the purposes of updating our members and the public about our projected course of action in light of developments that have since taken place beyond our last briefing in the previous year.
In the last few months of 2022, after getting the certificate of outcome in the dispute with the State, we mobilised and organised pickets and mass protest actions in August and November 2022, in defence of collective bargaining and in advancing the demands of the public servants. We all agreed that we shall not waver or concede an inch in our call for the unconditional implementation of clause 3.3 of Resolution 1 of 2018, fight against austerity measures, defend the resolutions concluded in the PSCBC that the state wants to reverse, and fight against the neoliberal policies of the 6th Administration.
We vowed not to submit to the subordination of the interests of our members and the public servants in general to the policy dictates of the Treasury and the imperialist institutions such as the IMF and the sovereign rating agencies.
This resistance against austerity is therefore not a narrow fight back over wage demands. Ultimately, it is a fightback that requires the mobilisation of the widest section of the working class and involving all the progressive forces for alternative economic policies and in building a powerful socialist movement of the workers and the poor.
After butchering public servants in 2020/21 and 2021/22, in the current financial year of 2022/23 the employer still expects us to accept a pathetic 3% wage increase. Yet this is a financial year in which the cost of living skyrocketed as the inflation hit a 13-year record of 7.8% in July last year and remained above 7%. Statistics South Africa recently found that inflation still remains very high at 6.9% in January 2023. Clearly 3% is not a wage increase – it is a wage cut when taking into account the rising cost of living. We considered the unilateral implementation of this 3% increase in the middle of the dispute as yet another attack on collective bargaining and undermining of the workers’ representative trade unions.
The country’s one million plus public service workers pour their hard labour into ensuring that the citizens of this country receive public services. They endure difficult living conditions as a result of low wages and the inability to access state housing, this includes the fact that their buying power has been eroded since the non-implementation of the last leg of Resolution 1 of 2018. They commit their time and skills by overextending themselves in their posts because government has failed to fill vacant posts for years and overtime is generally not paid.
Some public servants have been dispossessed of their assets for which they have worked very hard and over the years. Still others continue to agonise on the daily basis as to how they are going to find extra money to avoid dispossession of their valuable assets. It is unacceptable to subject public servants to circumstances where they are forced to make trade-offs involving food, children’s school fees, clothing, and other basic living necessities. Therefore we call on the employer to desist from enduring this suffering of the public servants.
Our stand point is to demonstrate the seriousness with which we take the government’s concerted effort to underplay the role and significance of collective bargaining and the signed agreements that bind parties. We have a duty to protect the integrity of the central collective bargaining institution in the public service, the PSCBC, in the face of the employer’s drive to degrade and break it down.
With the rapidly increased cost of living, as the international lenders warn the worst is yet to come, the government wants public servants to be at peace with less than inflation increases. This cannot stand unchallenged. Combined with the wage-freeze imposed in the 2021/2022 financial year and the closure of vacant posts, the result of this onslaught against collective bargaining resulted in about R300 billion “saved” and taken out of the pockets of public servants, as confirmed by the Treasury in Parliament in October 2022. As trade unions within the public sector, we remain firm in demanding the R13.2 billion owed to public servants, with interests, in terms of the implementation of clause 3.3 of Resolution 1 of 2018. We remain resolute in rejecting the use of the petty tips by the employer as sweeteners for the bitter pills of wage cuts. The tips are not substitutes for real baseline wage increase! They keep the remuneration structure in the public service stagnant and in fact the value of the baselines in the different wage bands are eaten up by inflation and this ultimately negatively affects the value of the pension pay-outs.
While the demand for 10 per cent against these realities is justified, consideration also ought to be given to the many serious losses public servants have incurred in the past two financial years, particularly the losses of 2020, where workers went without increases because the government refused to implement the last leg of the 2018 collective agreement. Let it not be forgotten that these losses were incurred at the time when the public servants had to put their personal health and safety at stake in the frontlines of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact countless public servants have perished in active public duty at the time they were robbed by their own employer.
Our consolidated demands in terms of the 2022/23 wage dispute also included a baseline adjustment to the housing allowance to all public servants regardless of whether they own or do not have a bonded house to R2 500, bursary schemes for the children of public servants who are currently excluded because they are considered too rich to get NSFAS funding, but their parents are poor to afford tuition fees and living expenses.
The list of consolidated demands also included access to a pension fund before retirement and an encashment of capped leave amongst others. To all of these demands, the government has refused to concede and it has been months since the negotiations started, yet we still find ourselves at this point of a dispute. We do not recognize the unilateral implementation of the employer’s offer as a way of resolving a bargaining dispute and in fact it is yet another illustration of the employer’s bad faith.
We have received all of us the notice for a Special Council meeting called by the employer, which is scheduled to take place tomorrow, Friday the 17th February 2023. It is our held view that, based on previous experiences, this sitting will amount to nothing but a box-ticking exercise in further justifying their tabled offer leading towards the upcoming Budget Speech to be tabled by the finance minister next week. It is for this reason that we are withdrawing our participation in this frivolous process.
We have also in December 2022 received a response from the Acting Minister of DPSA on the memorandum that was handed over to the employer in October 2022. We must indicate that the response displayed arrogance and contempt of the bargaining process and the trade unions on his part. He was not in any way responding to our issues and the dispute at hand. The refusal to meet these demands, however, must be contextualized. This is a well-coordinated attack on the public service and its employees that is coming from the arsenal of neoliberalism.
We have resolved to fight and protect collective bargaining; we are aware of the threats to want to demobilize our collective strength, but we will forge forward even to the last breath we take. We call on the government to do the honorable thing and accede to the reasonable demands that will counter the high inflation, the skyrocketing petrol prices, unaffordable food and public transport prices. Government must not create confusion with its frivolous call for labour to return to the council to negotiate for 2023/2024 because we are not done with 2022/2023 and if we were to heed that call it would mean that we agree with the pathetic increment.
To this effect we have resolved to continue with our campaign we started in 2022 as there is no logical basis to look forward to the next collective bargaining round for 2023/24 cycle given the track record, political posture and bad displayed by the employer. Therefore, our program of action will be rolled out as following:
(a) Firstly our negotiators are not going to participate in any activity of the PSCBC up until the 2022/2023 dispute is resolved.
(b) We have already started engaging our members to revive the mandate, mobilize and ballot them for the strike action.
(c) We will be convening town base meetings, meetings with progressive community organisations to explain our program but also to make the public aware of the plight of our members and the impact of the austerity measures in service delivery.
(d) We will on the days where in the Minister of Finance and the MEC’s of Finance are presenting their budget speeches picket outside the venues as part of our rejection of austerity measures and the implementation of neo-liberal policies.
(e) We will on the 22nd February 2023 serve the employer with the notice for a strike action as we are of a view that the employer is not interested in resolving this dispute.
We have resolved to rally our collective might to push the employer to improve the rejected offer and will use everything in our power to register our disdain to the government’s attitude.
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: email@example.com