August 17, 2004

Public sector strike looms as talks fail

Wage talks between government and six Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) public sector unions appear headed for deadlock, and possible strike action, after conciliation talks failed in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council. The unions, representing more than one million public servants, said afterwards that despite all efforts from labour to find common ground, negotiations had reached a "dead end". The unions warned that should government implement its 5,5% offer unilaterally, they would immediately go on strike. The unions are demanding a 8,5% pay increase.

The unions in question include the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA , National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, South African Democratic Nurses Union, South African State and Allied Workers Union, South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) and South African Medical Association. They have also accused government of gradually and unilaterally reducing workers' benefits such as medical aid and leave days. According to the trade organisations only a third of employees currently enjoy medical aid and housing allowances. There are also fears that those public servants who have been declared surplus to requirements following government restructuring exercise may lose their jobs.

Nehawu spokesman Molantoa Molaba said that the unions had also decided to withdraw from the Public Sector Summit called by government. According to him, the unions would be consulting their members about the way forward, which includes the possibility of a strike. As Sadtu secretary general Thulas Nxesi has put it, the situation was reaching a "crisis point". He said that from next week union members would engage in protest actions such as picketing, demonstrations and marches to urge government to review its position on the increase offer. Nxesi said the union had already consulted the African National Congress on the matter. He said that Sadtu had accepted the ruling party's explanation that it could not intervene in the dispute. "We accept the explanation but we think the need for intervention will become necessary when crisis becomes unavoidable," said Nxesi. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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