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News > World

South Africa: Unions Demand Further Reform for Public Workers

  • South African public sector workers march for higher pay during a protest in December 2017.

    South African public sector workers march for higher pay during a protest in December 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 June 2018

The discussion over public sector wages comes after the National Assembly passed three amendment bills to labor laws on May 29.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) announced in a press conference Tuesday that it will continue to reject a public sector wage agreement with the country’s Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) for what they call a “savage attack on the living standards of public servants.”

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The PSCBC, a central bargaining council within the labor market, announced Friday that 65.74 percent of trade unions agreed to salary adjustments and new conditions of service for three years, from 2018/19 to 2020/21, after hitting a deadlock last week.

Trade unions in opposition to the agreement say that a strike will not have the desired impact on labor negotiations and are thus committing to a “campaign on the ground until it is reversed” while outlining the conditions to workers.

“The agreement signed in 2018 is in many respects worse than the 2014-2017 agreement. This agreement overall seeks to make workers pay for an economic crisis they did not create. Those who created the crisis continue to smile to the banks,” the SAFTU press statement read.

SAFTU stated that the agreement does not properly address salary adjustment for inflation, further delays implementing housing allowance laws, lacks a review of medical insurance schemes, and needs to address outstanding demands.

The discussion over public sector wages comes after the National Assembly passed three amendment bills to labor laws on May 29. These bills set a general minimum wage of 20 rand per hour, or approximately US$1.58, but undermine the rights of workers to strike or picket.They also laid out earnings for extended public workers to be 11 rand per hour, 15 rand per hour for domestic workers, and 18 rand per hour for farm workers.

However, Citrus workers, gold miners, and some trade unions have since voiced and organized for higher wages and benefits.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union confirmed demands of the country’s top gold production companies Sunday, including an increase in monthly minimum wage and benefits such as severance pay, longer maternity leave, and a five-day work week instead of the current shift systems.

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Citrus workers in the Eastern Cape also went on strike through last week to increase their current minimum wage of 16.8 Rand, before they reached an agreement with the Sunday’s River Valley Citrus Producers Forum to raise the minimum pay to 20 rand per hour for two years, effective June 7.

The changes to minimum wage are viewed by the working class and some trade unions as an effort to bring about reform to appease white capitalist interests, saying that the Basic Conditions of Employment, National Minimum Wage, and the Labour Relations Amendment Bills constitute a “huge setback.”

“These bills will lead to the consolidation of the power and control of the employer class over labor in the workplace. They have absolutely nothing to do with either tackling violence during strikes or reducing poverty,” read a May 30 General Workers Union of South Africa press statement, adding “but have everything to do with accommodating the interest of capital, both locally and internationally.”

Critics of the minimum wage such as SAFTU believe that the change may contribute further to unemployment, at 26.7 percent after the first quarter of 2018.

On Friday the cabinet, made up of President Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president, and ministers, welcomed the passage of the new minimum wage by Parliament. The cabinet expressed its appreciation to stakeholders for reaching an agreement on the issue, but acknowledged that further discussions are necessary to review “the wage disparities that still exist in the country.” Ramaphosa has cited the establishment of a minimum wage as a key promise since he took office in February.

The bill was passed by a large majority after its original hearing for May 1 was delayed, though South Africa’s main opposition party the Democratic Alliance rejected the bill. Some proponents of the minimum wage, including Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) say that its introduction could stimulate economic growth and will benefit over half the nation.

Over twenty years after the end of Apartheid in 1994, significant disparities in wealth, opportunity, and employment continue to exist in South Africa.

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