6 September 2010

South Africa: Public Servants Weigh Up Their Response to State Offer

Photo: Kevin Roussel

Johannesburg — THE three-week public service strike could end today as most trade unions, except for the South African Democratic Teachers Unions (Sadtu), yesterday reached an agreement on the government's latest wage offer.

The unions were expected to announce a decision yesterday on the government's revised offer of a 7,5% salary hike and an R800 a month housing allowance.

But they postponed that announcement, saying Sadtu still had to complete its consultation with rank and file members.

The unions are demanding an 8,6% salary increase and a R1000 a month housing allowance.

Government officials have said the state has no room in the budget to increase what it has already offered, which would swell state spending by about 1%.

Pay and benefits are the biggest expenditure category in the state budget. In 2006-07, 35% of tax revenue went towards it. That rose to 47% in 2009-10.

The government will formally table its offer at the Public Service Co- ordinating Bargaining Council today. Thereafter, unions will have 21 days to accept or reject it.

Chris Klopper, chairman of the Independent Labour Caucus, said yesterday a thorough process of consultation was completed in which hard questions - such as whether unions still have the support of the public - were asked. He said the unions weighed up the effect of the no work, no pay principle.

"We will give you an idea of what the future of the strike is tomorrow at 4pm," Mr Klopper said yesterday.

Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said the union hopes to have completed its consultations by then. "Our structures are different ... we have to go to the lowest structures to get the views of those particular members," he said.

Sadtu in Gauteng already rejected the government's offer last week, so that province's consultations will be about a service level agreement and a proposed home ownership scheme, Mr Maluleke said.

The other provincial branches of Sadtu have not yet accepted or rejected the state's latest offer.

The deputy GM of the Public Servants Association, Manie de Clercq, said there are two issues at stake - deciding on continuing the strike and deciding on the offer.

"I do not think we can go beyond tomorrow to decide. The question is, while consulting your members, does it make sense for them to be on strike?" he asked.

More than 1,3-million striking public servants have severely affected services in education, health and administration. The strike has hit the poor - who depend on government services - the hardest.

The government was expecting that the meeting in the bargaining council would shed light on the unions' position on its offer. "We're still waiting for the unions to come to the bargaining council with their formal position on the proposition," spokesman Themba Maseko said yesterday.

Spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Patrick Craven, said yesterday: "Some unions are still consulting their members and reporting back ... I can't say anything."

Meanwhile, the strike by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) enters its second week today. Numsa represents 70000 motor industry employees in filling stations, vehicle plants and component factories.

Numsa is demanding a 15% wage hike, while employers are offering 6,6%. The strike resulted in the closure of Volkswagen SA's Uitenhage plant.

Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese said the strike will continue this week. Union members are due to march in Limpopo, where they will hand over a memorandum of demands to representatives of the Retail Motor Industry and the Fuel Retailers Association today.

With Reuters

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