Striking Productivity SA workers demand above-inflation pay rise

Published Nov 19, 2023


Durban — Striking employees of the state-owned entity Productivity SA have accused their employer of refusing to pay them a “living” wage while it wasted money on creating a bloated management structure.

A shop steward said the strike action, which started last Monday, was led by the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).

Workers protested outside their various workplaces across the country this week.

In Durban, they took their picket action to the doorstep of the Coastlands Umhlanga Hotel and Convention Centre, where management had allegedly “spent a lot of money” celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the Workplace Challenge programme that is funded by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition.

The shop steward, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, said workers had received unsatisfactory salary increments for the past four years.

“We are demanding salary increments beyond inflation, which we have not been getting for the past four years.”

He said the board and management continued to advertise senior management positions but said “they don’t have money”.

“The entity only cuts down on the lower employees’ expenditure but they keep on advertising (senior positions),” he said.

Productivity SA, which is one of the smallest government entities, gets an annual allocation of R61698000 from the Department of Labour to carry out its core mandate, which is to develop and enhance the country’s productive capacity by improving labour practices and the management skills of private companies and developing working relationships with other state agencies.

Of 102 Productivity SA employees, 27 were senior managers.

“In other words, one in four people (employees) is a senior manager in this organisation … that is where the money is being wasted,” said the shop steward.

He said the entity also received payment from the Unemployment Insurance Fund to implement its business turnaround recovery for businesses.

“We also have partnerships with various government structures such as municipalities and bigger corporates,” he said.

Nehawu spokesperson Lwazi Nkolonzi said the strike would continue indefinitely as the employer and union were “not finding each other”.

“The employer has not responded well to us and our members are still on the picket line,” said Nkolonzi.

Productivity SA confirmed that industrial action was under way but said circumstances did not allow it to accede to the employees’ demands because of budgetary constraints.

The workers demanded a 7.5% salary increase for the 2023/24 financial year increase and a 2% back pay increase for 2022/23. The employer offered 4%, which was rejected.

Productivity SA CEO Mothunye Mothiba said management had considered the staff’s demand for a cost of-living adjustment salary increase but could not afford the demand for a 9.5% increase due to a projected funding shortfall of R6,1million for the 2023/24 financial year.

“The board had approved a 3.5% salary increase for the 2023/24 financial year for staff on level 13 and above, even though this will increase the budget deficit. The offer of a salary increase is 4% to staff on level 12 and below, including gap closure to the qualifying employees.

“Furthermore, the budget cut of 10% on the grant allocation by the National Treasury reduces the Department of Employment and Labour grant to Productivity SA from R62,9m to approximately R59.1m,” said Mothiba.

Productivity SA spokesperson Dr Nandi Dabula said only 25 of 52 Nehawu-aligned members were on strike nationally, and there were contingency plans to ensure the safety of those who were not part of the strike.

She said the entity’s recent recruitment efforts were part of a strategic plan to ensure that the organisation operated efficiently and effectively in the long term.

“These recruitments have been carefully considered and are not contributing to an already bloated management structure,” Dabula said.

Funds for the anniversary celebration were separate from staff salaries and operational expenses and were from the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition budget, she said.

Mothiba said meeting the workers’ demands could drive the entity to insolvency.

Sunday Tribune