Public sector unions lose wage bill battle at the Constitutional Court

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Public sector unions have lost their Constitutional Court bid to force government to honour its 2018 three-year wage agreement. The Constitutional Court dismissed an appeal brought by the unions.

This comes 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. The said clause determined the public sector wage increases for the 2020/21 financial year.

SAFTU General-Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi says they’re disappointed in the court’s ruling.

“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 argument that South Africa doesn’t face a debt crisis and South Africa does not face a fiscal crisis. It is a policy choice, 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. We are extremely disappointed because this to them proves collective bargain into disarray and it makes any worker to know upfront that unless you win the battle in the streets through strike action, don’t ever take your battles to the courts because you’re more likely to lose,” says Vavi.

In his budget speech last week, 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 fiscals.

The minister is expected to meet with labour unions next month to address the issue of the public sector wage bill.

VIDEO: Government wins wage bill battle