Public sector unions plan heightened strike action if demands aren’t met this week

South Africa’s public sector workers, who await the government’s response to their list of demands this week, have vowed to heighten strike action should the state revert with an unfavourable response.

Labour unions are demanding salary increases of 10% and handed over a memorandum of demands to Public Service and Administration Minister Thulas Nxesi at a protest staged outside the offices of National Treasury in Pretoria last week Tuesday.

The unions gave government seven days to respond to their demands and present a better offer than the 3% baseline and 4.5% non-pensionable increases which the state has unilaterally implemented.

Public sector workers call on government to return to negotiating table
Govt ‘hikes’ wage offer to 7.5%, public wage bill may balloon to R700bn

“If government fails to respond, we are going to take the battle to them,” National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) national spokesperson Lwazi Nkolonzi told Moneyweb on Monday.

He said the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), the  Federation of Unions SA (Fedusa), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and Nehawu will meet on Tuesday morning to discuss the next plan of action.

“If the government doesn’t bring a positive response to our demands, there’s going to be a serious fight and struggle that we’ll be launching,” said Nkolonzi.

“Workers are not going to take this lying down, they are going to fight, rest assured. Up until they are offered a better offer than what the government has unilaterally implemented,” he added.

Read: Public sector wage talks leave Ramaphosa in tight spot

Nationwide stayaways

Speaking to Moneyweb on Monday, Public Servants Association (PSA) national manager Claude Naicker said its workers will continue to stage pickets from Tuesday,  followed by nationwide stayaways that will take place on different dates.

“We’ll start our plan of action on Tuesday, going forward in all the provinces. We’ve earmarked a specific date for [stayaways and protests] in each province,” said Naicker.

Meanwhile, Department of Public Service and Administration spokesman Moses Mushi has said negotiations for the 2023/2024 financial year need to commence before the next budget vote next year.

“We are saying that the current negotiations need to be concluded, and we need to do that with the bargaining council so that we can finalise the current wage negotiations, and then look at the next round, that we try and finalise it before the next budget vote,” said Mushi.

In its argument, the government has said the 3% baseline increase and 4.5% non-pensionable cash gratuity payment that will last until March next year effectively translates to a 7.5% increase – a salary increase structure unions have outright rejected, calling it “sneaky”.

Common practice 

But that is common practice, Hugo Pienaar, director in employment law at law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, tells Moneyweb.

“It’s not uncommon for companies to do that, and why they do it is because future increases would depend on the current basic increase,” he explains.

“If there’s a 3% [increase] in the pensionable, and a 4.5% on the balance, the 3% will forever be there to the benefit of the employees … However, the 4.5%, not necessarily so. That’s about negotiations, and it [government] is trying to make it attractive to the employees.

“Ultimately, the government’s affordability levels play a huge role.”

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 government, that would add R49 billion to the state’s wage bill, which would see the total public wage bill spiral even higher to R714 billion.

Previously, Nxesi and Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said the 7.5% increase is in addition to a 1.5% pay progression that is payable to all qualifying workers. This, they claimed, pushed the total package to a 9% increase for some workers.