All proposals will be considered at Friday’s public sector wage negotiations

On Friday public sector unions and the government will once again meet at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) where both parties will negotiate over contentious salary increases for public servants.

Although the government is not expected to back down on its salary freeze for SA’s 1.3 million public servants during the 2021/22 financial year, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu says all proposals on the negotiating table will be considered.

Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, Mchunu said the government will be engaging in the negotiations with the aim of not seeking to win but rather to be understood. He admitted that the long-drawn-out wage negotiations have proven to be difficult in the face of a constrained fiscus exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The deadlock in negotiations has caused the next round of negotiations for the 2021/2022 financial year to run behind schedule. However, Mchunu says the government has never had a resolution to undermine collective bargaining.

Bringing in an outsider

For Friday’s talks, the government has enlisted the services of an independent facilitator who is tasked with ensuring that the government’s team “should not take posture of people who want to win – the country has to win – not the government’s team. We need to move away from and avoid separation – there is no ‘us and them’,” says Mchunu.

“The situation in the chamber [PSCBC] requires parties there to put [out] demands and responses …. engagement [is required to be] raised to a level where there is an amicable outcome of negotiations,” he said.

The government has previously argued that the sustainability of the public finances bill depends on its ability to reduce growth in the public service wage bill.

According to the February 2021 budget, spending on public servant wages is likely to decrease from 61.1% of provincial budgets to 60.8% over the medium term.

Treasury puts the brakes on the wage bill (February 2021)
No more funds available to be reprioritised for public sector wages (March 2021)

Tough talk

Friday’s negotiations follow a warning by the Public Servants Association(PSA), which represents more than 235 000 state employees, that its members could down tools over the state’s failure to implement the third leg of a 2018 wage deal.

Mchunu previously said in court papers that the government would be required to borrow more than R78 billion if the last leg of the three-year wage deal was implemented.

Cosatu’s chief negotiator Mugwena Maluleke says Friday’s negotiations represent a “crossroads” for the various parties involved because if no deal is struck, trade unions would have to declare a dispute.

“Our expectation is that the employer should respond positively to our demands…we expect them to show that the people they are negotiating with are at the frontlines of the pandemic and are essential,” he said.

The PSA, other trade unions affiliated to Cosatu, and the Federation of Unions of SA have tabled a salary increase proposal of consumer price inflation plus 4%. The demand is above February’s 2.9% inflation and the SA Reserve Bank’s forecast of an average of 4.3% inflation for 2021.

Other demands include a R2 500 housing allowance and a payout of 12% of a public servant’s salary if they are affected by Covid-19.