ConCourt asks if govt was aware it wouldn’t afford the wage agreement hikes

Lawyers representing trade unions at the hearing have argued that the state’s decision to renege on the 2018 wage agreement was not influenced by illegality as the government has stated.

FILE: Trade unions said the agreement was a contractually binding document that became part and parcel of workers’ working conditions when it was signed. Picture: Eyewitness News.

JOHANNESBURG - The Constitutional Court has asked when the government became aware that it would not be able to afford the 2020 public sector wage increases and when it realised the agreement guaranteeing the hikes was invalid.

Lawyers representing trade unions at the hearing on Tuesday argued that the State’s decision to renege on the 2018 wage agreement was not influenced by illegality as the government has stated.

The apex court is hearing whether clause 3.3 of the 2018 Collective Bargaining Agreement entered into by government and trade unions is valid and enforceable.

Trade unions said the agreement was a contractually binding document that became part and parcel of workers’ working conditions when it was signed.

The government insists the deal was unlawful as it was not approved by Treasury.

AN ENOURMAS TASK TO RECOVER PREVIOUS HIKES

The National Treasury said it would have been an enormous exercise to recover money paid to public servants during the first two years of the 2018 wage agreement when the State implemented pay hikes, which it now said were concluded unlawfully.

Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett was answering a question from the Constitutional Court justices when he explained that the National Treasury views clause 3.3 in isolation but that did not mean the rest of the agreement was valid.

“To recover anything in that regard would require an enrichment action against many thousands of people.”

Lawyers for the public sector unions became involved in the matter as applicants argued that the labour appeal court was wrong to rule that the agreement is invalid.

They criticised the lower court’s approach to the matter, which weighed heavily on the minds of the court as they considered the impact of the pay increases in 2020 on the greater population.

Judgment has been reserved.

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