PUBLIC sector trade unions affiliated to Cosatu and the Federation of Unions of SA have declared war on the government over its failure to implement collective bargaining agreements including increasing its employees’ salaries this year.
From Monday until the end of November, 11 unions will start their programme of defiance, which will include lunchtime pickets, implementing the work-to-rule principle, which mean public servants will not be working unpaid overtime and this is expected to have a severe impact on departments with staff shortages, hold peaceful demonstrations in their workplaces and sit-ins in strategic government offices.
Mike Shingange, first deputy president of Cosatu and its biggest affiliate, the Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), said this time the government has miscalculated.
According to Shingange, unions did warn during Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech in February when he announced that the government wanted to cut R160 billion from the public service wage bill that the move was reckless, insensitive, clumsy and amounted to declaring war against workers.
”And the war is on their way now,” he said.
Shingange also accepted that the fact that politicians earning below R1.5 million received salary increases between 2.8% and 4% from the same public purse they claim cannot afford state employees’ pay hikes was an indictment on unions.
He said lowly paid public servants who are paid between R70 000 and R109 000 a year not receiving salary increases this year but medical aid, bonds and everything else did.
Shingange added that municipal councillors, local government workers and chief executives of state-owned entities have received salary increases, which were also funded by the same public purse they then turn around and claim the public service wage bill is too high.
”The focus is on national and provincial departments – health, education, police – but do not care about the other public servants getting huge sums of money without them being touched,” he said.
”It’s an indictment. You can’t expect a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a cleaner, a home affairs or justice department official to understand that they must not get a salary increase this year when everybody else who is getting money from the same public purse has gotten a salary increase,” Shingange said.
Politicians think they must manage the fiscus of the country but from the point of view of their own income, according to Shingange.
”You have politicians who think you are too old when you are 54 years old to work for the government and this person is 72 years old there in Parliament but he doesn’t want to go home, he wants you to go home so that he can remain getting as much money as he can,” he said.
Shingange also warned that if the Labour Court rules in favour of the government in its bid to have the 2018 wage agreement declared that it offends public policy, is unlawful and contravenes parts of the Constitution dictating how money in the national revenue fund should be spent then all agreements signed with the government were in jeopardy and is akin to abandoning collective bargaining.
He said the government was acting as if its negotiators were not in possession of their faculties or someone put a gun on their heads when the agreement was signed.
”It is the employer that put pen to paper first when unions still wanted to negotiate. We didn’t to sign the three-year agreement”
He also cautioned of the effects of the state’s failure to implement collective bargaining agreements, saying as the largest employer in the country the government will set a precedent for other employers to disregard agreements.