[DEBATE] : Public Sector Unions Gird for Strike Action.
Salim.Vally at wits.ac.za
Wed May 9 16:39:50 BST 2007
Business Day (Johannesburg)
8 May 2007
Posted to the web 8 May 2007
PUBLIC sector unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade
Unions (Cosatu) plan to mobilise undecided unions in the sector to join
them in a planned nationwide strike that could paralyse delivery of
basic services across the country.
Cosatu's eight unions, comprising about 60% of the public service, said
after a meeting in Johannesburg last night that they would meet their
counterparts in the Federation of Unions of SA and the Public Service
"We have developed a four-week programme of action that will culminate
in a strike. The Cosatu unions and the four other unions declared the
dispute together. We need to meet with them first, but we are ready to
take action," said National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union
chief negotiator Alistair Charles.
The need for maximum unity is crucial if the strike is to have maximum
impact. Winning over the undecided unions, where the bulk of the scarce
skills reside in the public sector, is critical.
The last strike, in 2005, was a display of unity between Cosatu-aligned
unions and the others. The public was swayed behind teachers, nurses and
security guards of all races when they took to the streets demanding
The government can ill afford a disruption of basic services as poor
communities have already taken to the streets over the state's inability
Despite unprecedented economic growth in recent years, unemployment and
poverty remain high.
Cosatu's unions lashed out at the government's chief negotiator, Kenny
Govender, accusing him of bad faith.
"The figures the chief negotiator gave are not true. If (Public Service
and Administration Minister) Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi believes him, she
should be called to account," said Charles.
Govender said last week that if the government was to grant the unions
their demand of a 12% increase, the public service wage bill for this
financial year would be R198bn. The government's offer of 6% would
amount to R9,3bn.
Charles said that the unions would issue a statement tomorrow detailing
their figures on what it would cost the state.
The unions outlined their provisional programme of action, which would
include mass mobilisation over the next two weeks and consultation in
Charles said that most of their members had been canvassed on the
The tone of the talks between the government and labour is becoming more
strident. Government negotiators accused the unions of being outlandish
in their demand for the 12% hike.
But the unions argued yesterday that there had been a steady decline in
the value of salaries over the past decade.
"Working people spend more than 50% of their income of basic goods and
services like food, transport, housing and education," said Nehawu
president Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya.
She said CPIX (inflation without mortgage costs) did not reveal the real
cost of food, transport and administered prices such as electricity.
Food prices were rising at 18% and climbing, and transport was at 15%,
"The effect is that in real terms workers have in fact been subjected to
wage cuts. Every year over the past decade we have been able to buy less
and less with our salaries.
"We did not overthrow apartheid simply to keep our income at levels they
were under the white minority regime," she said.
It is understood that behind- the-scenes negotiations between Cosatu and
Fraser-Moleketi continued well into the night.
However, insiders said the talks concentrated on moves to create a
single public service and that wage negotiations for public sector
workers were not on the agenda.
After today's meeting between the unions, they will brief the media. If
the Cosatu unions manage to persuade the four that remain undecided to
down tools, it will result in the biggest strike the country has seen.
A successful strike will lead to the withdrawal of labour by close to
1-million workers. It will include health, education, security and
Unions warned of an "unimaginable crisis" that would make last year's
security guard strike pale in comparison.
Other demands include a total review of nurses' salaries, improved
housing and medical benefits, the reduction of salary notches and the
creation and filling of all vacant funded posts.
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