Major public sector strike threatens South Africa

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Public sector unions say they plan to go on strike after the failure of negotiations with the government over wage increases.

The unions, which are part of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), protested outside the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) on Tuesday (Sept. 20) against the wage offer of a 3% raise.

Employees demand an 8% increase.

“After the last meeting of the PSCBC, the employer proposed a 3% pay increase which we presented to our members. Employees made it very clear that they are rejecting the offer,” the unions said.

Civil servants have had little to no pay rise for three years after the National Treasury pledged to cut the country’s public wage bills. The government backtracked on its agreed wage increase for 2020 when it froze salaries in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Government workers got no raise in 2020 and a small increase of 1.5% in 2021. The government initially offered 1.5% again in 2022, before unions negotiated it to 3% in the latest round of talks.

However, this was rejected by the members, with the next step being a strike.

“We have received a certificate of non-resolution which means we will now start a process to vote our members and write down the rules for pickets in preparation for a strike,” the unions said. “There will be a major strike within the public service.”

The 3% wage offer was rejected because public sector workers’ salaries had not risen in three years. This lack of raise has had a negative impact on workers’ lives, unions said, as costs rise but salaries have remained the same.

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The unions said the public sector has a reputation for being well paid, but that this did not reflect the low-level workers demanding raises. The government wage offer applies only to levels 1 through 12 in the public sector pay scales – with the exception of top earners such as senior managers.

Workers represented by the unions include police officers, security guards, educators and other officials from various government departments.

The public sector is not the only industry plotting strike action. The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) is demanding a 10% wage increase and also started a protest at the Union Buildings on Tuesday.

The National Union of Metalworkers or SA (Numsa), meanwhile, has announced that it expects a strike certificate to be issued this week, which will have a huge impact on the automotive sector if it goes ahead.

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Numsa is demanding a 12% pay increase from automotive employers who have offered increases of between 3% and 4%.

“The date of the strike has not been confirmed. In the meantime, however, members across the country would mobilize for a total shutdown of the auto sector,” the Bureau of Economic Research said.

Strikes against wages are a major pressure point for the economy as rising wage demand pushes interest rates up.

South Africa narrowly avoided a major strike by the private security industry last week after employers in the sector reached an agreement with the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) on wages.


Read: Triple blow to South Africa this week

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