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NEWLY-appointed Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is set on a collision course with public sector unions as she attempts to avert a nationwide public service strike.
Sisulu was shifted last week from the Defence Ministry to her new portfolio, and her first task will be to avoid a potential strike that could bring public service delivery to a halt.
Sisulu called on unions yesterday to return to the negotiating table so an “amicable solution” could be found to avert a strike by about 1.3 million public servants.
Wage talks between the government and labour have deadlocked since the government tabled its final offer of a 6.5 percent pay increase and R900 housing allowance.
The unions rejected this offer. They are demanding an 8 percent increase and a housing allowance of R1 500 a month.
Sisulu described these as unaffordable when she briefed the media in Pretoria yesterday.
She does not have a cordial relationship with unions. This stems from when, as defence minister, she dismissed more than 1 000 soldiers involved in a violent protest.
She also has been at loggerheads with Cosatu over her outspoken view that there is no place in the defence force for unions.
Her apparent endorsement of a recent court ruling compelling unions to be held liable for damages incurred during protests is also unlikely to gain favour for her with Cosatu.
According to Sisulu, the unions would be surprised to find that she is not “the devil that the media have portrayed” her as.
“To use the language used in my previous portfolio, we are in clear and present danger of a looming wage dispute. Neither labour nor government has an appetite for a strike.
“I would like to invite labour back to the negotiating table. They will be surprised that I have no horns, there’s no devil here.
“We must get back to the negotiating table and find an amicable solution.”
Sisulu said the government was insisting on a multiterm agreement spanning three years that would include a service charter linking wage increases to productivity and performance.
According to Sisulu, the government’s wage bill was unaffordable, having spiralled from R211 billion in 2009 to R314bn in 2011/12.
The offer tabled by the government would cost taxpayers R30bn – R8.1bn more than has been budgeted for.
“We cannot carry on like this with a wage bill that is unaffordable. It can only negatively affect service delivery, infrastructure development and the poorest of the poor,” said Sisulu.
She refused to comment on whether the government would push for a unilateral implementation of its offer if labour did not budge on its demands.
“I don’t want to say anything that may jeopardise the negotiations. Let me rather say we will cross that bridge when we get there.
“At the moment we want labour to return to the negotiating table so that we can find a solution to the impasse.”
Sizwe Pamla, spokesman for the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, said the government would have to make an offer exceeding 11 percent for the the union to even consider a multi-term agreement.
“If there’s a multiterm agreement it cannot be on their terms,” Pamla said.
“Let them table at least a 11 percent offer, them we can consider the multiterm agreement.”