Transport Minister Dipuo Peters
Johannesburg - More than seven thousands workers at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) may down tools in two weeks following the deadlock over wage negotiation with their employer.
Workers affiliated to South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) and United National Transport Union (Untu) were vehemently opposed to the proposed 4.5 percent wage increment by their employer.
The parastatal has about 17 000 employees and the majority of them were not unionised.
Workers had initially demanded a 20 percent salary hikes but they were forced to reduce their demand to 17 percent following tight negotiations at the bargaining council.
Satawu spokesperson Zanele Sabela said the union representatives downgraded their demands at the last wage negotiation meeting a week ago.
Prasa management, however, indicated it was willing to revise its initial wage proposal of 3 percent to 4.5 percent on condition that the unions would move down to 12.5 percent.
This was completely rejected by the unions, which opted to call off the negotiation and go back to consult with their members.
Sabela said in the past few days the unions crisscrossed the country to present the employer's proposal of 4.5 percent to its members in Kwa-Zulu Natal, East London, Port Elizabeth, Gauteng and Western Cape.
She said the unions would request a meeting with the employer on March 16 at the bargaining council, where a feedback from the workers would be given.
"Workers are adamant that they don't want anything less than double digits," she said.
Sabela didn't rule out the possibility of workers going on strike, saying it was always adopted as a last resort during negotiations.
"There is always a possibility of people going on strike as a last resort during the wage negotiation," she said.
According to her, the deadlock between the two parties had been there even before they met for negotiation.
Sabela said the employer started with a 1.5 percent wage increase, citing that the parastatal did not have enough money. However, following much pressure from the union, the management moved to 3 percent proposal.
One of Satawu representative at the negotiation, who didn't want to be named, said workers rejected the 4.5 percent increase because they wanted anything between 10 percent and 12.5 percent.
"In all the provinces workers rejected the management offer and they want to go on strike. Workers want double digit," she said.
The Pretoria News understands that some union leaders had expressed feelings that there was no need to meet with the employer due to the huge margins between the two parties.
The intention of the unions was to head straight to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), where they would declare a dispute between themselves and the employer.
They would then wait for the commission to issue a certificate of dispute, which could result in workers going on strike.
Untu spokesperson Sonja Carstens said the union had planned to meet with its members in Cape Town last Friday. However, some of the workers were prevented to attend the meeting.
Prasa Group chief strategy officer Sipho Sithole promised to respond to questions related to whether Prasa would revise its initial offer to avert the looming strike, but had not done so by the time of going to press.