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Union threatens shutdown of public facilities over wages amid coronavirus crisis

Mar 21 2020 11:31
Londiwe Buthelezi

One of the unions representing civil servants has threatened to shut down all public facilities if workers don’t get salary increases, as it is rejecting government’s effort to reduce the public wage bill.

The National Union of Public Service and Allied Worker (NUPSAW) asked workers to prepare for “a national shutdown” if civil servants don’t get salary increases by 1 April. The union, together with other labour federations held talks with government through the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) on Tuesday, 17 March, where government proposed a 0% wage increase.

This comes after finance minister, Tito Mboweni announced intentions to cut the public wage bill by R160 billion over the next three years. Although President Ramaphosa explained earlier in March that in order to cut the wage bill without dramatically shedding jobs, the country needs to slow the rate at which public sector wages grow, major unions and labour federations have refused to play ball.

READ | Beware coronavirus if public sector wage deal is nixed, warns emergency workers union

“The failure by government to ensure its part of the agreement is met by April 1, calls for nothing but a national shutdown. Considering coronavirus, this will not only hit on the local level but both the national and provincial levels will feel it too,” read NUPSAW’s statement.

NUPSAW whose website shows that together with two affiliated unions represent over 100 000 civil servants said it also reserves its right to go to court to force government’s hand to implement the increases.

The union called the salary freeze an attempt by government “to put its hands into the public servants’ purses”. It accused the government of trying to divert salaries due to public servants to pay for the state’s “massive” debt caused by corruption and interference in how departments work, while covering up for the looters.

“In an economy like South Africa and with the current pandemic covid-19 still rising, there is simply no excuse for government to give insufficient money to the workers whose efforts make the public facilities thrive. The South African government needs to take action of putting the public servants needs first,” said NUPSAW media officer, Kagiso Makoe in a statement.

Will healthcare workers be affected?

Since NUPSAW says it acts together with the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) and the National Teachers Union in PSCBC meetings, the proposed shutdown comes at a critical time for the country because Hospersa represents more than 50 000 public servants who are predominately health workers.

The union also represents people working in welfare institutions such as old-age homes, frail care and rehabilitation centres. Although Hospersa previously vowed to take to take government to task if it backtracks on 2020 wage increase since it agreed upon and concluded in 2018, the union’s public relations officer, Kevin Halama said it has not considered a shutdown.

“Hospersa has not discussed the notion of shutdown with members to date.  We believe that the negotiation process must be exhausted first before even considering any mass action,” said Halama.

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa continues to rise – the last count was 202 individuals – any disruption in the healthcare sector will be detrimental for the country.

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