PSI sends solidarity support to the public service workers of South Africa who have found themselves confronted by the very high cost of living on one side and an intransigent employer on the other. They are really caught up between the proverbial rock and hard place.
We recall that this matter that is coming to a head now is an escalation of the negotiation process that started last year in 2022. The start of negotiations took place soon after the constitutional court upheld the South African Government’s decision to walk away from a collective bargaining agreement that they had signed.
In an effort to demonstrate workers’ struggles under the prevailing economic conditions where the cost of living had sky-rocketed, public sector trade unions organised a national shut down protest action on the 24th of August 2022. The shutdown was organised to call Government’s attention to living conditions that were already bad, and were only getting worse.
Good working conditions and decent salaries are key conditions towards high worker morale, which in turn contributes to the good performance.
Following the collapse of wage negotiations, a National Day of Action was organised on the 22nd of November 2022. Again, this was another practical demonstration that the majority of public service workers were not happy with the 3% increase that the Government has thus far insisted employees accept and wanted to unilaterally implement. Unfortunately, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears as the Government had not improved its offer by taking into consideration factors such as the 2022 increase in the inflation rate.
The impasse has continued to this day when workers are considering going on strike, with others already having embarked on the industrial action which has since been interdicted, while tensions continue to simmer with the risk of a full scale, indeterminate and paralysing strike.
The economy and the delivery of public services cannot and should not be subjected to yet another shock, especially a government-made one, following the disaster that was the Covid pandemic. This is in addition to the disruptions that are being caused by the power outages.
The Government needs a serious rethink on its policies of austerity. Reduced funding and investment in the public services has serious consequences. It should be well noted that Government depends on public sector workers to deliver on its mandate. Public sector workers have the task of implementing all government programmes and services offered by the state. It is self-evident truth that worker morale is a huge factor in the quality of service that they can offer.
We believe that good working conditions and decent salaries are key conditions towards high worker morale, which in turn contributes to the good performance. Currently, worker morale in the South African public sector is very low and this does not augur well for the quality and efficiency of public service delivery.
Better salaries and employment conditions are key to reducing the loss of trained professionals from the country to the developed countries of the global north
Secondly, following the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating effects it had on public services in general and health delivery systems in particular, health delivery was obviously severely affected. The logical thing would have been to increase funding and investment in public services as a way of not only halting the decline but starting the process of rebuilding and ensuring a well-resourced public sector set up to deliver quality public services. Better salaries and employment conditions are key to reducing the loss of trained professionals from the country to the developed countries of the global north.
In its pursuit of these austerity policies, Government has chosen to sacrifice workers. It would appear as if the court victories have now emboldened the Government as litigation seems to be their recourse of choice. While the courts certainly have a role to play in the framework of industrial relations as stipulated by the Constitution, true harmonious industrial relations are attained around the bargaining table. What South Africa doesn’t need now are disruptive and conflictual labour relations.
We therefore call on the South African government to return to the negotiation table in good faith, and pay public sector workers living wages and decent working condition. We call on the government to rebuild and invest in public services to ensure that all people in South Africa can access services such as health, education, utilities, administration, water and sanitation and electricity.
And finally, we call on the South African public sector workers not to give up, and to keep fighting against austerity and cuts to the public sector wage bill.