Public sector industrial action fizzles … for now

Labour unions representing workers in the public sector plan to intensify their fight against the government’s wage offer after the festive season, with some calling for a full-blown strike.

Workers have unequivocally rejected the government’s 3% baseline and 4.5% non-pensionable increase, leading to a protracted wage deadlock.

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), which represents more than 155 000 police, traffic and correctional officers, reiterated its stance this week, saying it rejects the 3% increase that has been unilaterally implemented by the government.

According to the Department of Public Service and Administration, negotiations for the 2022/2023 year have been sealed and the offer implemented. It now wants to return to the bargaining table to negotiate salaries for the 2023/2024 financial year.

It has said on multiple occasions that it cannot present a better offer than the 3% baseline salary increase and the 4.5% non-pensionable increase on the current R1 000 monthly stipend paid to civil servants.

Unions want 10%

The government has argued that its offer is effectively a 7.5% increase, but the unions don’t agree.

They are demanding salary increases of 10% in the wake of rising inflation and higher cost of living.

Richard Mamabolo, who is media and communication officer for Popcru and spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), says the unions as well as the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and the Federation of Unions SA (Fedusa) are due to meet to devise a plan of action for next year.

“Our programmes that we started this year are still going ahead in the next year, and of course next year we will mobilise even further and there is the possibility of increasing our demands,” says Mamabolo.

Popcru-affiliated workers staged a march in September relating their grievances about the criminal justice cluster, which remain unresolved, he adds.

“We have not received any good feedback and there hasn’t been much change, so as a union, our plan of action [is that] we’re going to be camping outside parliament early in the next year.”

Mamabolo previously told Moneyweb that workers would not strike during the festive season, lest the government withdraw their bonus payments.

But strike action in 2023 is likely to be protracted – and won’t follow the marches that were held over a single day this year in what the federations called a ‘National Day of Action’.

“It will be prolonged, we’re planning on camping outside parliament regardless of the time it takes,” says Mamabolo. “These are your so-called essential services workers where it matters, without essential salaries.”

Other essential services workers

Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA (Hospersa) Gauteng provincial spokesperson Mbuso Shozi says workers under this union will go on a full-blown strike – if the Cosatu/Sadtu (South African Democratic Teachers Union) bloc backs them.

“It’s either we go on a full-blown strike or else we don’t strike … we’re still consulting our members,” says Shozi.

“We want a full-blown strike. We don’t want these one- or two-day marches.”

If the government’s offer is implemented according to the 7.5% increase, the public service wage bill would rocket to nearly R700 billion.

If the 10% hike demanded by unions is met by the government it would add R49 billion to the state’s wage bill, which would see the total public wage bill spiral even higher to R714 billion.

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