01/08/2012 Minister of Public Service and Administration, Lindiwe Sisulu after briefing the media on the wage negotioations and the execution of a collective agreement with various unions. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Mogomotsi Magome

THE government is to demand value for taxpayers’ money from public servants after entering into a wage agreement that is to lead to the state’s annual wage bill rising to about R317 billion.

According to Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, the government is to sign an accord with unions committing workers to certain productivity levels.

This is expected to be done by the end of next month and is included in the wage agreement.

The government and unions signed a three-year wage agreement on Tuesday. It will see public sector employees receiving a 7 percent wage increase and a R900 housing allowance.

The unions’ final demand had been for a 7.5 percent pay hike and a housing allowance of R1 500. They say they made some compromises to conclude the wage talks.

According to the wage agreement, workers are to get a percentage increase that is the consumer price index (CPI) plus 1 percent from next year to 2015.

The wage talks, which have been described by labour and the government as very difficult, broke down at one stage, with labour accusing the government of negotiating in bad faith.

Sisulu was appointed to the Public Service Ministry in the middle of the negotiations, which created some uncertainty although the minister does not sit at the negotiating table.

During her tenure as defence minister, Sisulu was not on the best of terms with labour unions .

She said yesterday the multiyear agreement would allow the government to focus on implementing other elements of the wage agreement, while focusing on turning around the public service, instead of being held up in negotiations every year.

“The point that we were making about the multiyear agreement was that it would give us time to make outstanding implementations and focus on productivity levels that must be achieved,” she said.

“These were tough negotiations and by their nature, negotiations are always a give-and-take situation. But we must give credit to labour because they managed to lower their expectations and offered us a three-year agreement.”

Sisulu said the Treasury had been kept informed throughout the negotiations as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan had budgeted for only a 5 percent increase for public servants.

Sisulu said the country’s wage bill was way too big and created a challenge for the government.

“As the government we have competing priorities and responsibilities that we have to attend to.

“This R317bn wage bill is unsustainable for a country growing at the pace that we are at the moment.”

The Independent Labour Caucus (ILC) was pleased with the agreement under the circumstances, its chairman, Chris Klopper, said.

The ILC, representing 11 unions with more than 400 000 members, was happy with certain victories it had achieved, he added.

“As the ILC we set ourselves a target of 7 percent as a minimum for the wage increase and nothing less than [CPI] plus 1 percent over the following years, and that is what we managed to come out with,” Klopper said.

“We were also looking at the issue of the government employee housing scheme, because the government wanted rented housing to be excluded. We are happy that has been avoided.”

Klopper said the ILC was not comfortable with all aspects of the agreement, but nor was the government.

“That is the nature of negotiations where you have to give and take,” he said.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union spokesman Sizwe Pamla,welcomed the deal, but said the union was cautious about celebrating.

He agreed that the multiterm agreement would offer space for implementation of the other elements of the agreement.

“This will give us time to start focusing on other important matters instead of being held up in negotiations over a wage increase and housing allowance,” Pamla said.

“One of these issues is to come up with a public sector remuneration policy that will ensure that we do not have nurses who still earn R6 000, and that we address the issue of the huge wage gap between senior managers and lower workers.

“The minister has been talking about a service charter and productivity levels.

“Those are things we have to deal with.”

Pamla said unions would prefer that their inputs were taken into consideration before the Treasury began its budgetary process, so protracted negotiations and contradictions could be avoided.

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