Major strike action planned for South Africa – with protests starting next week

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) says that it will move ahead with plans to strike against the government’s refusal to increase public servants’ salaries and a failure to offer adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) against the coronavirus.

Nehawu’s membership base exceeds 240,000 people, making it the largest public sector union in the country.

Its general-secretary Zola Saphetha told News24 that a strike at the National Health Laboratories Service will be used as a ‘launchpad’ for the implementation of its national programme of action.

“Workers are extremely angry at the poor pace of transformation and government’s inability to improve the lives of public servants, including freezing their wage increase by reneging on the implementation of Resolution 1 of 2018, while watching the elite benefiting from the proceeds of corruption through PPE tenders and supply of other Covid-19 essentials,” he said.

Saphetha said that on Monday (24 August), workers will head to their employers’ offices to apply for a leave day on Tuesday. He added that lunch-hour pickets are planned between Monday and Thursday next week.

The proposed strike action primarily revolves around the issue of wage increases which had been promised to government workers.

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 woes with unions and government now set for a showdown.

Mass action

The union added that it also plans major strike action in September against government.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla has previously said that union has the federation’s blessings and support for its planned mass action next month. “We want public servants to go on a full-blown strike,” he said.

Pamla stated that the government is not acting as though there is a crisis in the country with public servants contracting and succumbing to the deadly coronavirus.

Saphetha said that Nehawu will embark on a national day of action on 3 September across all of the provinces where memorandums will be handed over to senior government officials.

He warned that if the government does not meet Nehawu’s demands by 10 September, the union will completely withdraw its labour.

“Unfortunately, it will be at the peak of this virus. Nehawu is more than convinced that this is the right moment to take a firm stand against the exploitation of our members and workers, austerity measures and the maximisation of profits at the expense of the blood and sweat of workers,” he said.

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Major strike action planned for South Africa – with protests starting next week