Trade union federation Cosatu is calling on its alliance partner, the ANC, to intervene in National Treasury’s plan to review the public sector wage bill agreement.
It says Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s ambitious plan to renege on the agreement, which he announced during the Budget speech, could cause the governing party’s relationship with workers to collapse.
Cosatu held a media briefing on Thursday to outline the outcomes of its central executive committee meeting this week.
Central to its agenda was this year’s budget speech, particularly plans to cut provincial and national departments’ public sector wage bill by R160.2bn over three years.
In its Budget Review, Treasury proposed cuts to the wage bill of R37.8bn in 2020/21, R54.9bn in 2021/22 and R67.5bn in 2022/23.
Cosatu, which claimed it only received the news at the 11th hour, said it would engage with the ANC – not about the cuts, which are discussed by the bargaining council, but on the principles around Mboweni’s plans.
Cosatu’s first deputy president Mike Shingange said it would appeal to the ANC and not remain silent while the rights of workers were undermined.
“The ANC has fought for democratisation of the workers in this country. The ANC has fought for giving the voice to workers to bargain for what they think they are worth. We will be saying to the ANC, you can’t have a government that undoes that which you fought for as a liberation movement.
“They didn’t fight for workers to be exploited and undermined like this. They didn’t create an institution for people to come and trample over them just like that. They can’t be quiet and not do anything otherwise they must think twice about the relations with the workers in this country,” he said.
Cosatu also raised concerns about its ‘limited influence in government’ with Shingange saying Treasury’s latest move with the public service wage agreement had never been done before – not even during apartheid.
The agreement, which was meant to be implemented in April, could lead to a standoff between Cosatu and President Cyril Ramaphosa. This could be an acid test for Ramaphosa’s relationship with his alliance partner, which was an important supporter in his narrow 2017 ANC presidential victory.
In terms of the agreement, salaries are due to increase up to 7%, or CPI+ 1%, on April 1, depending on the job grade, Fin24 reported.
However, employer negotiators from Treasury and the Department of Public Service and Administration told unions on Tuesday that the government was unable to afford the increases, and proposed a review of the wage agreement.
According to Fin24, a document presented to the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council on February 25, stated that government spending was at its highest level since the start of democracy and “well above what the economy can afford”.
“We expect them to implement because labour will not be agreeable to a revision. If it’s not implemented, labour is going to apply for enforcement. No trade union movement worth its salt is going to sit across the table with the employer, discussing a downward variation of the employer rights and benefits which workers have,” he added.