June 28, 2007

Unions call off strike

South Africa's main trade unions have ended their four-week strike, after the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) had decided to accept the government's offer of a 7.5% pay rise - they had demanded 9%. The government had originally offered 6%, while the unions had wanted 12%.
Cosatu said the strike, which involved hundreds of thousands of people, had been a "historic turning point in the lives of public-sector workers". Before the decision was announced, one union official said that teachers wanted to end the strike, as school holidays had started. However, a Cosatu statement noted that teaching unions were not prepared to sign the deal and would continue talks with the government. The four teacher unions suspended their industrial action so they may go on strike again after the school holidays. These unions, including the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu), which is the largest union in the public service, are not happy with the government's final offer, especially its career growth path plans for the sector. They plan to hold meetings with the government. The education caucus said it would continue engaging the government in its bargaining chamber.
The public sector unions before had announced that the majority of them would sign the offer, which includes a 7,5% pay rise. Although it was not clear who exactly would sign the deal, Dave Balt, president of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation, said the majority had agreed to the proposal, which meant it was binding on the teacher unions. Sadtu general secretary Thulas Nxesi said his union, which was at the forefront of the strike, recognised that the majority wanted to sign the agreement, but said it was a sign that the teacher unions were not happy. "We will take our concerns to the education labour relations council," he said.
The strike, which took a heavy toll on schooling and some health facilities, saw unions united across federation lines as never before. "We congratulate all 17 unions for maintaining an unprecedented level of unity and cohesion," said National Education Health and Allied Workers president Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya. "We have consistently worked together and rebuffed all attempts by the employer and the media to create divisions. "The combination of unity and militancy means that never again will the employer dare to treat us with the callous indifference they have displayed in the past and during this dispute." Mayende-Sibiya stressed that the unity of labour and the length of the strike would ensure that in the future the government would never again threaten labour with a unilateral implementation of a pay deal.
The government's offer includes an increase in the housing allowance from R456 to R500 a month as well as a return-to-work agreement and a no-work, no-pay agreement. The state has agreed that essential service workers fired for joining the industrial action can return to work on a final warning instead of being dismissed. And, instead of docking the pay of striking workers over one month, this will be done over three months. The agreement also includes fast-tracking the implementation of the increased housing allowance. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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