Public service unions to accept state’s final 7.5% offer

More than half of South Africa’s public sector workers look set to accept the government’s final 7.5% salary increase offer by Wednesday, bringing an end to pay talks for 2023.

The state, which initially tabled an offer of 4.7% in February, presented a revised offer of 7% earlier this month following vehement rejection by public sector unions – but that too was rejected, which pushed the government to its new offer of 7.5%.

Unions that moved to abandon the 2022 pay negotiations and begin a fresh round of talks in February embarked upon a mandating process that lasted from last Monday (20 March) until midnight on Friday.

The process saw a majority of union members voting in favour of the proposed offer, Claude Naicker, national manager for the Public Servants Association (PSA) told Moneyweb on Monday. The PSA represents nearly 240 000 workers.

Naicker said the increase is an 7.5% “average” pensionable salary hike, meaning that some workers will only be eligible for an increase lower than 7.5% but nothing less than 7%.

During last year’s talks, a point of contention between the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and unions was the manner in which the government had structured the salary increase. In addition to the 3% pensionable increase that was unilaterally implemented, the state added a 4.5% increase that was non-pensionable and pertained to a R1 000 cash allowance to workers that lapses at the end of this month.

Read: Govt ‘hikes’ wage offer to 7.5%, public wage bill may balloon to R700bn

The new offer, Naicker said, comprises a 3.3% salary hike and a 4.2% increase relating to the cash gratuity, both of which will be pensionable.

“They’ve taken the cash allowance now, and they’ve converted it into a pensionable salary increase; it will be incorporated into your basic salary, and once it’s incorporated, a certain deduction will go into your pension,” he said.

“Under the circumstances, the way members have voted, they are happy with what’s currently on the table.”

If a deal is signed by a majority of the unions that are participating in the 2023 round of negotiations, which constitutes over 53% of the public service’s over 1.2 million workers, the agreement will be binding on all parties.

Not all in favour

“If they sign, it would have sold out workers,” said Lwazi Nkolonzi, spokesperson for the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which was opposed to commencing with the current pay talks.

“That would be reversing what we are fighting for and workers would be in a far worse position than they were even last year,” he said.

Read: Court orders striking healthcare workers to end walkout

Nehawu, together with other unions including the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa), signed a settlement agreement earlier this month that ended the wage dispute for the 2022 financial year.

However, part of the agreement makes allowance for the lingering grievances from the 2022 negotiations to be dealt with in the 2023 talks.

With the majority of the unions nearly ready to ink a deal with the government, the unresolved matters pertaining to the rest of the unions, which are still meant to resolve 2022 issues, would not render that process null and void, Nkolonzi said.

“The process is not null and void, the agreement is quite clear and we are going to fight for that agreement to be implemented fully,” he said.

“The settlement agreement that we signed was that there would be an augmentation to the 3% that government unilaterally implemented, and that entails that we’ll table a better offer that will actually cushion workers against the economic shifts they are facing.”