July 27, 2004

Unions: ANC shall intervene in wage dispute / COSATU criticises black empowerment deals

Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) public service unions have called on the African National Congress (ANC) to intervene in their protracted wage dispute with government. The unions have threatened to go on strike if their demands are not met, and that could lead to a collapse of crucial public services. The unions are demanding an 8,5% salary increase while government is offering 5,5%. According to the unions conciliation talks had "collapsed", increasing the possibility of a strike. The affected unions include the South African Democratic Teachers Union, Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, the National Health and Allied Workers Union, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, the South African Democratic Nurses Union and the South African State and Allied Union.

COSATU deputy general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said the unions wanted the ANC, as the ruling party and the federation's alliance partner, to persuade government to inject more money to improve employment conditions. The public servants, said
Ntshalintshali, were critical in the attainment of the ANC's vision of creating a caring public service. The unions are also demanding medical aid and housing benefits for the more than one third of the lower category staff and a review of the current grading system, which they say does not deliver fair and efficient career-path opportunities for employees working in the public service.

In a different context, South Africa's trade union federation COSATU said that a series of deals giving black investors share stakes in South Africa's financial sector violated an industry charter aimed at greater participation by the black majority. "(We) warn against big empowerment share deals taking priority over truly broad-based black economic empowerment. There is a clear attempt to downplay genuine broad-based economic empowerment and access by millions of our people to finance...," COSATU and its South African Communist Party ally said in a statement. The criticism comes after South Africa's biggest bank, Standard Bank, agreed to sell a 10 percent stake to a consortium led by prominent business leaders Saki Macozoma and Cyril Ramaphosa. Cosatu said it and the SACP would meet the finance minister, Trevor Manuel, and his trade and industry counterpart, Mandisi Mpahlwa, to request government intervention to ensure that the parties to the charter agreed on investment targets urgently. "These agreements outlined a package of changes to better the majority of South Africans not just an elite minority." According to Caz Coovadia of the Banking Council of South Africa, which represents the industry, ownership transfer was part of the charter. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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