An impending public sector strike, following the failure of talks between the unions and the government, will put President Cyril Ramaphosa in difficulty.
This week, four unions were issued certificates of non-resolution, effectively allowing workers to go on a strike that could see nurses, police and other public sector workers stay away from work, disrupting key government services.
The Public Servants Association of SA represents over 230,000 workers and has already notified the strike after rejecting a 3% wage offer from the government.
He says he plans to go on a national strike next Thursday (November 10).
Two teacher unions, the National Professional Teachers Organization of South Africa (Naptosa) and the South African Democratic Teachers Unions (Sadtu), have accepted the government’s offer.
READ ALSO: Picket of public sector unions after stalemate in wage negotiations
In his statement on medium-term budgetary policy, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana presented a 3% increase for public workers, saying higher wages in the public service would pose risks to the country’s already dark fiscal prospects.
This prompted some unions affiliated with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), including the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), the Democratic Nursing Organization of SA (Denosa), the Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA (Hospersa) and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) – to declare a dispute.
The wage stalemate comes at a pivotal political moment as the ANC prepares for the December elective conference to choose its party leader, as well as the general election scheduled for 2024.
Tension is mounting for Ramaphosa and his administration as they face the difficult task of striking a balance between appeasing public service workers and protecting an already strained fiscus.
“The ANC politicians will be under pressure, especially President Cyril Ramaphosa, because he needs union support,” said Ongama Mtimka, a political analyst and lecturer at Nelson Mandela University.
Added to this is a legitimate concern that the ANC will structure public service wage arrangements in a way that helps it get the support it needs for re-election, says Mtimka.
“We have reached a level where institutions such as collective bargaining and labor agreements in the tripartite alliance all come into question … if [the ANC] they have gotten to a point where they say “What matters are the biggest concerns”, such as public service reform and ensuring that the national fiscus is not overloaded. “
He adds that there is tension between “the political imperatives to pacify work” and what has been understood by the government as “the imperative to put the fiscus in the right position”.
Containing the cost of wages, which currently stands at Rs 665 billion, is critical for Godongwana as he attempts to cut spending and ensure public finances are sustainable. Employee pay is expected to grow at a rate of 1.8% and rise to Rand 702 billion by fiscal year 2024/2025, according to the mid-term budget.
While Ramaphosa will need the support of the unions in December, real concern remains over the level of civil servants’ wages and the skyrocketing cost of living, says Mtimka.
Nehawu’s national spokesman, Lwazi Nkolonzi, told Moneyweb that unions should discuss the issue at a meeting of the Cosatu Joint Mandate Committee (JMC), where an action program will be devised.
“For civil servants who have not received any increases in the past three years, and for the government to come back and offer 3%, it is an insult, bearing in mind that it does not even meet the inflation rate currently.”
The JMC meeting will determine the start date of mass union action by workers, says Nkolonzi.
“What will happen is that, as civil servants unions, we will convene a meeting before the end of the week to develop a concrete action program which will then culminate in defining what will happen.”
Listen to Fifi Peters’ interview with Michael Sachs of Wits University’s Southern Center for Inequality (or read the transcript):
This article originally appeared on Moneyweb and has been republished with permission.
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