Mchunu describes this year’s wage talks as the most difficult SA ever faced

He has urged government and labour representatives to put the public service first and not treat each other as adversaries.

FILE: Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu. Picture: GCIS.

CAPE TOWN - Public Service and Public Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu has on Thursday described this year’s wage talks as “the most difficult negotiations” the country has ever faced.

He has urged government and labour representatives to put the public service first and not treat each other as adversaries.

The talks got off to a tense start earlier this year after government declined to raise workers’ wages in 2020 as part of a 2018 wage agreement.

The bad state of the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for drastic changes in the public service are just some of the reasons Mchunu listed as factors that have made this year’s talks the most difficult.

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National Treasury aims to cut about R300 billion from the public wage bill in the next three years as it becomes ever more apparent that government cannot afford to foot the bill as the pressure on the fiscus increases.

However, trade unions are equally under pressure to appease their members who have gone without wage adjustments in the past year.

Mchunu had a message for the negotiators: “The interest of the people of South Africa must feature in the chamber, the interest of government must feature in the chamber, government services must also feature quite strongly during negotiations. But the interest of public servants must also feature.”

So far, government has offered workers zero increases despite a long list of demands including increases in inflation and 4% housing and risk allowance hikes.

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Mchunu also said suggestions that government had offered workers zero percent wage increases were “misleading”.

While he has acknowledged that workers were offered zero percent salary increases for 2021/2022 – he has made mention of other allowances and conditions of service benefits - which he claims have been improved.

But his version differs from that of organised labour.

In an unprecedented briefing, he has addressed the challenges faced by negotiators as the tense public wage talks continue at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council.

Last week, labour unions said government had tabled zero percent increases in response to their demand of inflation plus four percent for all workers and rejected all other demands.

However, Mchunu said this was not true.

“There are certain areas in the conditions of the public service that are not necessarily at zero but are going up as we’re talking year after year.”

Mchunu also emphasised that national Treasury has said there is no money to finance the public wage bill as the country faces a fiscal cliff.

Labour and government negotiators return to the council on Friday where the employer will table a new offer.

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