Nehawu questions government’s commitment to collective bargaining in public wage talks

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National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) President Mike Shingange says government’s commitment to collective bargaining needs to be questioned after it reneged on the 2020 public service wage agreement.

Speaking at the Public Service Summit in Kempton Park east of Johannesburg, Shingange said there should be clarity about which state department and ministers are responsible for public sector wage negotiations.

Last month, the Constitutional Court sided with the Labour Appeal Court in finding the wage agreement unlawful as it had not been budgeted for by National Treasury.

Shingange says: “Because in the courts, Treasury has distanced itself from the work of government’s mandated team of ministers and the mandate that was given to that team by the cabinet. Treasury distanced itself from that work, so we need clarity here on what is the status of the team of ministers that are mandated on behalf of government to do negotiations.”

In his Budget Speech in February, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced a marginal increase of 1.8% to the public wage bill for the current financial year. He also expressed concern over the rising debt levels that pose a risk to the fiscus.

Concourt ruling on wage bill

In a unanimous ruling, the Constitutional Court (Concourt) said in the present economic and health circumstances facing the country, it will not be equitable to require the state to make salary increases, dismissing an appeal brought by unions.

This came after government reneged on some aspects of its collective wage agreement, citing lower tax revenue. The salary increase would have added R38 billion to the already high public sector wage bill.

The Constitutional Court dismissed the public sector union’s application for permission to appeal a 2020 Labour Appeal Court judgment. In that judgment, the Labour Appeal Court dismissed the unions’ application to enforce clause 3.3 of the collective agreement.

Reacting to the ruling, Labour expert Puke Maserumule said the Concourt’s ruling means that government does not have to pay an increase in the public sector workers if it cannot afford it.

Maserumule said even if the government agreed to increase wages, it is now in a position to decide whether to pay workers.

SAFTU disappointed 

On the other hand, South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) General-Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has since expressed disappointment in the court’s ruling.

Vavi said: “They decided that workers, in the light of the difficulties faced by the capitalised class in 2008/09 now worsened by the coronavirus, that it is workers, not anybody else, who must pay and suffer the consequences of that. The Constitutional Court ignored all our arguments that South Africa doesn’t face a debt crisis and South Africa does not face a fiscal crisis. It is a policy choice, a government that is facing that fiscal crisis that resources are available in this country through taxation and through the wealth and solidarity; all of this has been ignored by the court.”

“Ruling not a victory”

Meanwhile, National Treasury says the ruling should not be seen as a victory.

Director-General Dondo Mogajane said the ruling creates space for the parties to have a conversation around affordability and the state of government finances.

More details in the report below: