Government’s decision to cut the wage bill of public servants by more R160 billion over the next three years has sparked an angry reaction from labour unions.

Unions have threatened to embark on protests action – saying government wants to renege on the terms of a public sector wage deal struck in 2018.

Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) General Secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali says government’s decision to renege on the wage increase deal for public servants is an attack to collective bargaining.

He say officials informed them on Tuesday that they could not afford to pay public servants wage increases that were meant to come into force in April 2020, for the final year of the three year deal.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said measures to contain the wage bill had already been tabled at the Public Sector Co-ordinating Bargaining Council. Economists have long argued that government should take a tougher line with unions given the severe fiscal constraints.

In the video below, SABC Parliamentary reporter, Bulelani Phillip gives a breakdown of political parties’ reactions to the Wage Bill

Ratings agency Fitch says public sector wages account for around a third of consolidated government expenditure.

Ntshalintshali says government’s decision will affect workers’ morale and service delivery.

He says, “The question of the wage bill you must look at the benefits… It is wrong to talk to us rather than saying we are going to cut the perks and the people that have messed this economy are not the ordinary nurses and the police are people on top.”

South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says, “We’re told that government is already making moves to convene the public sector bargaining chamber in order to tell the workers that they must take a wage freeze. The current agreement they signed rejected by all unions except the Cosatu.”

“The move is now to impose a wage freeze and withdraw government from the commitment that it has already made and signed with the 52% of the public servants represented by Cosatu unions. If that is not a declaration of war, you tell me what that is.”

In the video below, Cosatu’s Matthew Parks says unions can’t negotiate in good faith when government signs an agreement and afterwards seek to run away from it.