File picture: Zanele Zulu

Johannesburg  - National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) members employed by the Department of Social Development (DSD) on Monday went on a full-blown strike across the country after negotiations over working conditions with the employer collapsed.

"We are calling on all our members to down tools for a total and indefinite shutdown until our demands are met. Following a marathon negotiations with the employer, last night the negotiations collapsed," Bereng Soke, Nehawu general secretary said in a statement.

"For more than a month now since the submission of our memorandum, the employer has failed to table a counter offer, only releasing an insulting propaganda statement."

Last month, Nehawu mounted nation-wide protest action and delivered a memorandum of demands but a solution to the dispute is yet to be reached. The union demands, among other things, the placement of assistant community development practitioners on the "correct salary" level, the occupational specific dispensation for social service professionals and occupations, the introduction of a rural allowance, the absorption of unemployed social workers on a permanent basis and many others.

The occupational specific dispensation system was introduced for public sector employees in 2007 in a bid to improve government's ability to attract and retain skilled employees through increased remuneration.

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Soke said, as a result of the collapsed negotiations on Sunday night, Nehawu leadership in all layers of the national union was deployed on the ground at picket lines to intensifying the strike.

"We are now in the process of consulting our members in South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) over their long-standing demands that have not been addressed by the employer in the same department," Soke said.

"Our members are already calling for a total indefinite shutdown of Sassa and union is considering this option. We are now calling for all our members and all social development employees to come out in support of their legitimate demands and their fighting union."

Social Development spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant, was not immediately available for comment after numerous attempts to get hold of her.