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Johannesburg – The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union said on Thursday it has signed a settlement agreement with the Department of Social Development, resulting in the suspension of the five weeks social workers' strike.

Nehawu said in a statement that the agreement was signed on Wednesday after lengthy and difficult marathon negotiations.

Workers affiliated to Nehawu in the Department of Social Development went on strike demanding, in the main, the placement of assistant community development practitioners on the "correct salary" level, the Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD) for social service professionals and occupations, the introduction of a rural allowance, and the absorption of unemployed social workers on a permanent basis.

But Nehawu said it still needed to conclude negotiations in the Bargaining Council in relation to the details of both the rural allowance and the review of OSD. The union said when these matters are eventually finalised at the Bargaining Council, it would then call off the strike permanently.

Workers are expected to return to work on Friday for those who work shifts and other employees would return on Tuesday. Nehawu said the settlement was a victory for workers in that the department agreed in principle and committed to review OSD including salary levels of all social service professionals and occupations and to the introduction of rural allowance.

In this regard, the department committed to table a detailed offer and proposals on the union’s demands on or before 31 July in the Bargaining Council.

The department also conceded to back pay on the introduction of rural allowance with effect from 1 April as the union demanded, and effecting back pay on reviewed and improved salary levels and other inherent benefits of a packaged OSD model from 1 October.

"As Nehawu, we are elated that we have been able to fight and win these gains for workers even though the employer was hell-bent on maintaining the status quo," said the union.

"This hard won victory is as a result of the hard work put in by the national union since August 2015. The strike which came after we marched to the Department of Social Development and the Department of Public Service and Administration on February 10, 2017 was marred by delaying tactics by the department through court interdicts and police high handedness on our members in picket lines."

Nehawu said this strike should serve as a lesson that workers should never be taken for granted and that any attempt to treat them with disrespect shall be met with militancy.