Major strike action in South Africa this week

 ·5 Oct 2020

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will begin a major strike action this week as ongoing disputes between labour and government come to a head.

The federation has issued a call to all workers and South Africans to join the strike, citing the government’s continued failures to honour its wage agreement and repeated failures to provide basic services around healthcare and transport.

BusinessDay newspaper reports that around 1.3 million workers are set to embark on a go-slow from lunchtime on Monday (5 October).

The workers will implement the ‘work-to-rule principle’, a form of protest in which employees do exactly what is stated in their contracts, and nothing more, as a means to slow down production.

While the strike action will primarily focus on the wage dispute, Cosatu’s general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali has said that the federation also wants president Cyril Ramaphosa to speed up prosecutions of corrupt individuals.

“He (Ramaphosa) must stop negotiating with criminals and use the only language that they will understand which is prosecution and sentencing,” Ntshalintshali said.

The strike is expected to come to a head on Wednesday (7 October), when unions undergo a national strike.

Gautrain workers affiliated to the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) meanwhile, will also embark on strike action from Monday.

Numsa has said it has no option but to go ahead with its planned strike action on Monday at Gautrain until management returns to the table to renegotiate.

Gautrain operator, Bombela Operating Company, has reportedly offered workers a 4.1% salary increase, however the union is demanding an 8% increase.


Wage negotiations

South Africa’s government is opposing a bid by labour unions to compel the state to honour a public-service wage deal, warning the accord would lump the country with R37.8 billion of additional debt, Bloomberg reported.

The government in April reneged on an agreement to raise pay for more than 1.2 million public servants as part of an effort to stabilize state finances.

Public wages are set through bargaining with unions and agreements stay in force for three years. The current agreement is in place until March 2021.

However, in February the government asked to review the last leg of a three-year pay agreement because it said it couldn’t afford it.

The coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the country’s financial problems with unions and government now set for a showdown.

Increasing government employees’ wages is unaffordable, particularly given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on state finances, Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane said in a 17 July affidavit.

“Government is compelled by the Covid-19 pandemic to spend public funds (which are already in deficit) to alleviate the plight of the poor and vulnerable,” he said. “Regrettably government simply cannot in these circumstances accede to the applicant’s claim for yet further increases.”

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