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Public sector strike on the cards after government’s wage offer was withdrawn

Delegates dressed in Cosatu regalia seated at the congress.

File Picture: Delegates at the Congress of South African Trade Unions 14th National Congress in Midrand last month. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 11, 2022


Durban - After the withdrawal of the 3% wage offer last week, many unions have been left pondering strike action in a bid to get the government, through the Public Service and Administration Department, to give a better offer to public servants.

The labour federation Cosatu said the strike was inevitable, and only the government could ensure that it was averted.

Cosatu convener of affiliates Simon Hlungwani said they were dismayed by the government’s attitude, shown by its decision to withdraw the 3% wage offer last Monday.

“Our demands remain the same and what the withdrawal of the offer simply means is that there is nothing to negotiate and this is what led to us filing the dispute,” said the convener.

Cosatu, which is made up of a number of affiliates, including Sadtu, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, the National, Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union and the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union, has vehemently opposed government’s offer in the past, raising fears of a strike.

The filing of a dispute last week, Hlungwani said, paved the way for a 21-day period during which conciliation may take place between opposing parties, and should the process fail, the affiliated unions will go on strike.

“It is our wish that the strike can be avoided, but this is not something that is in our hands, but it is the government that can ensure that this is averted,” Hlungwani continued.

He blamed the current stand-off on the government’s attitude, and warned of a strike similar to that seen in 2010.

However, at least one Cosatu affiliate, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) says it will accept the government’s 3% offer should it be tabled again because most of its members had given the leadership the go-ahead to sign the agreement, the union’s KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Nomarashiya Caluza.

“In KZN, which has seven regions, only two approved the offer, while the other five rejected it. That mandate was then taken to national, where other provinces indicated the membership was in support of the offer,” she continued.

“This means that should the government table the offer again, Sadtu, which is Cosatu’s largest affiliate, will accept the offer.”

Caluza explained that this was not a provincial matter, but a national issue.

“Democratic centralism explains that once a decision has been overwhelmingly approved, it is binding on everyone and that is the case here with KZN.

“Sadtu operates on democratic principles,” she said.

Reuben Maleka, of the Public Servants’ Association of South Africa, indicated that it was preparing for a possible strike.

“We are now concluding the picketing rule and come Tuesday afternoon (today), we will in all probability announce that we are embarking on a strike,” said the PSA’s chief negotiator.

He slammed the government’s attitude throughout the negotiations process, labelling it as arrogant.

“In most instances when we speak of an employer being arrogant it is in reference to private companies and big corporations.

“It is really disappointing that in this case we are referring to the government of the day,” said Maleka.

According to Maleka, there were consultations with other role-players regarding the public sector wage negotiations, but he would not divulge their nature.

He concluded by indicating that they had prepared all the logistics for a strike, although he stressed that they were hoping it would be avoided.

According to labour, the government is demonstrating the same attitude it showed in 2010, which led to one of the biggest public service strikes in the country’s history.