State offers 6.5% wage hike

The state has given public sector unions until Thursday to accept a 6.5 percent wage increase. But unions say the government’s revised offer will only incense members and, given several other unresolved issues, a deal this week is improbable.

The unions, which initially asked for a 10 percent increase, have revised down their wage demand to 8 percent and are asking for a housing allowance of R1 500 a month.

Chris Klopper, the chairman of the Independent Labour Caucus (ILC), said on Friday: “We don’t think we can take consumer price index (CPI) plus 0.5 percent to our members. I don’t think it will fly. It will only incense people.”

The offer, which is based on average consumer inflation of 6 percent, emerged after the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council appointed facilitators to move negotiations forward, after labour declared a dispute with the government last month.

The state is also offering a R100 increase in the monthly housing allowance, to R900, and it wants unions to sign a multi-term agreement for the next three years that would see wages increase by CPI plus 0.5 percentage points each year.

Mugwena Maluleke, the spokesman for Cosatu’s public sector unions, said: “We have taken the offer to our members, (but) the government must come up with a revised offer.”

The ILC represents 470 000 public servants belonging to 11 unions. Cosatu public sector unions represent more than 600 000 employees. Cosatu and the ILC are working together in wage negotiations.

Klopper said the government’s revised offer had been made on the premise that it would be accepted by Thursday. If it was not, it could be withdrawn or reduced.

He added that the state implied that, if the offer was not accepted, it might declare a dispute. It is unclear what the end result of that would be. If the state ventures down that path it may lead to a lock-out to force unions to accept the offer, but the state has never done this and is unlikely to do so, according to Klopper.

Dumisani Nkwamba, the spokesman for the public service ministry, said if the unions did not accept the offer, “we will cross that bridge when we get to it”.

Besides the wage offer, Klopper said deal breakers also included the issue of the housing scheme and the multi-term agreement.

The state wants the housing allowance to be replaced in September by a housing scheme.

“This is one of the big, big sticking points,” Klopper said, as the scheme would only benefit employees on lower salary levels. The more a public servant earns, the less he will benefit from a housing scheme. Currently all state employees receive the housing allowance of R800 a month.

Maluleke said the multi-year deal assumed public sector workers received a living wage, but if you adjusted salaries by CPI plus half a percentage point you got a wage decrease.