Daily Maverick

PSA strike ‘futile’ after Nehawu signs public sector deal

The public sector wage agreement will be implemented after Cosatu affiliates agreed on Friday to the three-year deal. The PSA (Public Servants Association) still plan to strike on Monday, limiting public services, but with a majority of public sector unions signing the deal, it will be implemented despite the PSA's frustrations.

In a joint press briefing in Johannesburg on Friday, unions affiliated to Cosatu announced they had all agreed to a wage deal in the public service sector, effectively averting the chances of a prolonged strike that could cripple public services.

The deal will now be implemented, despite some unions remaining against it, after the National Education and Health Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), a Cosatu affiliate, had decided to sign the agreement, meaning over 50% of workers’ represented at the bargaining council are on board.

Nehawu’s announcement comes after 10 months of negotiations and heated exchanges between unions aligned to Cosatu and those outside the country’s largest labour federation. The agreement will now be implemented unilaterally to all workers, meaning Monday’s Public Servants Association (PSA) strike would have been ineffective.

Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBS) general secretary Frikkie de Bruin said: “In this instance, collective bargaining was the ultimate winner, with parties being resolute in negotiating an amicable settlement, irrespective of various challenges.”

He continued: “Everyone may not be happy with everything in the resolution, but overall it attempts to address in some form the needs of every one of the 1.3-million public servants impacted by the agreement.”

Over 65% of unions at the PSCBS agreed to the wage increase.

The three-year deal includes a 7% pay rise for the lowest category of employees, 6.5% for mid-level workers and 6% for senior employees in 2018/19.

Police officers and teachers will also, this year, see their annual pay progression, a yearly pay rise linked to meeting basic performance standards, rise to 1.5% in line with other civil servants.

In the next two years, the lowest pay categories will receive inflation plus 1%, with mid-level employees getting inflation plus 0.5% and senior employees, inflation-linked increases.

Under the agreement, if spouses are both government employees they will now both qualify for a housing allowance. Previously, only one spouse would be able to receive the allowance.

Cosatu unions the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) were the first to sign the agreement at the PPSCBS, leading to a war of words in recent months between Cosatu and the Public Servants Association (PSA).

The PSA rejected the proposed three-year deal and after declaring a dispute at the bargaining council 130,000 of its members planned to go on an indefinite strike on Monday to force government back to the negotiating table.

Although 100,000 PSA members work in essential services and cannot strike, public services could still have been crippled. Home Affairs, for example, could have come to a standstill.

Speaking earlier on Friday, PSA general manager Ivan Fredericks said the strike would be “futile” if Nehawu signed the deal. The union called off its strike after the deal was reached. 

If they have signed today, it means that we have been defeated by unions that represent workers, not the employer,” said Fredericks.

The PSA has accused unions affiliated to Cosatu, who represent a majority in the public sector, of choosing politics over workers’ interests. Fredericks claimed they signed a deal offered under Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo that was worse than one offered by former minister Faith Muthambi.

It’s just a political game they’re playing,” said Fredericks. He accused the PSCBS of colluding with Cosatu unions to sideline his union and appease the federation’s alliance partner, the ANC.

Cosatu affiliates hit back at the PSA. In a statement on Wednesday, the federation’s spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the PSA is not linked to Cosatu and shouldn’t comment on its decisions.

PSA is therefore ill-qualified to offer any opinion on Cosatu or the internal processes of its affiliates,” he said.

The SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) also criticised Cosatu: “We understand that other unions have agreed to sign this agreement and we believe they do so for not any apparent reasons that are in the interest of workers but for expediency and political opportunism,” it said in May.

Saftu affiliate the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw) lodged a dispute over the wage negotiations this week.

Sadtu General Secretary Mugwena Maluleke hit back on Friday at the PSA, questioning the union’s past commitment to industrial action and saying it was now falsely claiming to be militant. DM

This article was amended at 17.45 pm on 8 June 2018.

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