Solidarity with Public Sector Workers on Wage Negotiations

PSI sends our full solidarity to our affiliates and all the public sector workers in South Africa on the day of national action, 22 November 2022. This day of action follows the arrogant 3% wage offer that the South African government is imposing on workers, refusing to negotiate in good faith. Public Service workers put forward a demand of 10% in line with inflation and taking into account the forced concessions workers had to endure when government reneged on the last year of the 2018 wage agreement during the Covid Pandemic, but this was flatly rejected by the employer.

What is remarkable about this National Day of Action, and a fact that the government should take note of, is the collective organising of South African public sector workers under the three main federations in the country. This collective action should serve as a notice that workers in their collective are capable of bringing the country to a standstill. The leadership of trade unions and their members should be commended for forging this unity and agreeing on a common and united response to the employer’s clearly arrogant attitude towards the workers’ demands.

South African public sector workers take to the streets on 22 November 2022

For its part, the government should understand that by intransigently refusing to improve the 3% salary offer, it has taken a stand against the majority of its workers in the public service, to whom it has bestowed the mandate and responsibility to deliver public services. The Government is wilfully ignoring the true lived experiences of workers and their families who have been impacted by the cost of living which has risen sharply as a result of the increase in food and fuel prices, unusually high inflation rates and rising interest rates. This is in the context of the entrenched 3 evils of poverty, unemployment and inequality as well as an energy and looming water crisis a rise in non-communicable diseases and the effects of climate change.

We in PSI believe that workers are able to deliver Quality Public services when they are fully motivated and earn decent salaries. The responsibility to pay living wages, motivate and incentivise workers lies squarely on the government as the employer. As the drivers of the Sustainable Development Goals, public sector workers should be given all the support that they need. By paying a fair wage, governments show not only its commitment to the development of South Africa, but respect for its citizens and workers. You cannot demand diligence from the workers who feel disrespected and insulted, nor can you expect full commitment from workers who are demotivated.

PSI notes with concern yet another direct attack on collective bargaining

PSI notes with concern yet another direct attack on collective bargaining. For years, South Africa has been seen as the model of a country with the utmost respect for workers’ rights, as part of its respect for human rights in general. The world watched with apprehension in 2020 when the Government reneged on the last leg of a collective bargaining agreement it had signed after a full round of negotiations. Given the painstaking process that is involved in negotiations and in keeping with the spirit of the ILO Convention 098, collective bargaining agreements are supposed to be inviolate and sacrosanct.

Inevitably, the reneging on its agreement is a betrayal and a direct attack on collective bargaining itself. What is the point in negotiating if the outcomes of that process can be ignored at the whim of the other party? To once again impose a wage offer without negotiation only entrenches that the South African governments seeks to undermine the gains made to respect collective bargaining and labour rights as envisaged at the birth of the democratic government. 

It is clear that government is putting profit before workers and profit before people

 This U-turn can only be understood by the policy direction that the country has chosen. South Africa has chosen the path of austerity, which prescribes the cutting of public expenditure or increasing taxes or a combination of both as a way of reducing public debt. Neo-liberal economic policies deliberately seek to cut back on public services and make way for for-profit privatisation of public services. It is clear that government is putting profit before workers and profit before people. If South Africa is to address increasing unemployment and poverty, it should do so through public infrastructural investment and the creation of decent employment and not through privatisation.

It would be sheer hypocrisy if the Government were to continue to talk about its commitment to the 2030 Agenda while embarking on a policy direction that does not create the fiscal space for the attainment of the SDG’s. Central to achieving these goals and addressing poverty and inequality, are decent salaries and decent work. PSI therefore stands in solidarity with public service workers in their demand for a 10% wage increase, and for their call for greater investment in public services.