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EXCLUSIVE: Public sector wages: 10% salary increases could be tabled

Ordinarily, trade unions from the different federations, including independents, consolidate their demands ahead of negotiations, however, this will not be the case this year.

FILE: Recognised unions are struggling to agree on a common set of demands, a practice that has existed for many years to ensure smooth proceedings, with some unionists worried that this will lead to a drawn-out process. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The new round of public service negotiations has not gotten off the ground as yet but trade unions in the sector are already at loggerheads over demands, an impasse that will see them starting the talks on the back foot.

Recognised unions are struggling to agree on a common set of demands, a practice that has existed for many years to ensure smooth proceedings, with some unionists worried that this will lead to a drawn-out process.

Ordinarily, trade unions from the different federations in the country, including independents, consolidate their demands ahead of negotiations; however, this will not be the case this year.

The talks, which were meant to start last year, were delayed by an ongoing battle with government over its failure to implement the last leg of the 2018 wage agreement, with the state winning a case over the matter brought to the Labour Appeal Court in December.

Labour has applied to appeal the case in the Constitutional Court as government maintains it cannot foot the bill, which amounts to over R30 billion for the three years ending in 2020.

Sources from different unions have exclusively told Eyewitness News that it appears as though the fight to be perceived as the most progressive union among them all has led to some preferring to field their own demands as opposed to the usual process of reaching a consensus first.

The differences were also glaring when the unions presented different arguments during the December court case.

Should the negotiations go on for a lengthy period as expected if no agreement can be reached between unions, state employees could go more than two years without adjustments to their salaries following last year’s government stance not to hike wages.

Despite this, Eyewitness News also understands that some formations will be tabling demands of up to 10% in salary hikes.

The failure among unions to reach a consensus on wage demands means that government negotiators will have their hands full dealing with a range of figures and other demands related to conditions of employment.

Sources in the sector say some federations, such as the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), will be tabling salary adjustment requests of consumer price inflation (CPI) plus 1%.

The CPI slowed to 3.2% at the end of 2020.

Furthermore, it’s understood that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) unions, which ordinarily tables demands through the joint mandating committee, may see a breakaway from the process by some of its affiliates.

Treasury has already made clear its intentions to freeze increases for the next three years as it goes on a savings spree, with the public sector wage bill and other compensation budgets in its sights.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni could also make further announcements on the wage bill during his February budget statement, as the country rushes against the clock to raise funds for the COVID-19 vaccine, among other expenses.

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