Government workers demand an 80% increase in their minimum wage – and at least R36,000 in Covid-19 ‘danger pay’

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) has outlined some of the demands it will be making when negotiations with the government begin later this year – including a new minimum wage for workers.

The union, which represents 160,000 workers across 257 municipalities, held its national collective bargaining conference last week to discuss the wage proposals.

SAMWU said that workers can no longer be tied to multiyear agreements which are not in their interest, and called for the end of multi-year wage agreements. Further it said it will negotiate for a R4,000 increase across the board for all workers.

The biggest shift, however, is that the conference resolved that a R15,000 minimum wage would be reasonable and appropriate for all workers in the sector.

According to the bargaining council agreement for the sector in 2020, the current minimum wage payable to municipal workers is R8,330. If the union’s demands were to be met, this would amount to an 80% increase in the minimum wage for the sector (excluding benefits).

Some of the other key resolutions include:

  • Housing allowance – The introduction of a R3,500 housing allowance for all workers, and that municipalities should make available serviced stands for workers to build their own houses.
  • Medical aid – For low earning workers, the union will demand 80% medical aid contribution by employers while workers will contribute 20%. In addition, the union will demand the scrapping of capping medical aid contribution by employers in both sectors. It was also resolved that in instances of death or retirement, workers should be given a paid-up certificate, meaning that the employer will continue with contributions towards medical aids.
  • Parental leave – The union will demand six months of maternity leave with full pay for mothers and one-month of maternity leave with full pay for fathers.  Parental leave shall include childbearing, adoption of a child and stillborn.
  • Pension funds – The union will demand a 25% employer contribution towards pension. In addition, workers should be allowed to voluntarily contribute towards savings
  • Danger/risk allowance – The union will demand an ex-gratia (voluntary) payment from the time that the country declared a state of disaster. This amount has been set at R3,000 per month (R36,000 as of March 2021).

Government vs wages 

The government’s fiscal strategy over the next three years is to narrow the deficit and stabilise the debt-to-GDP ratio, Treasury said in its budget on Wednesday (24 February).

Key to this will be the reduction of government worker wages – with the issue expected to come to a head in the next few months.

While the country’s Labour Appeals Court has sided with the government on the reneging of the 2018 wage agreements, any change to this, through further court action, would leave the government with billions of rands owed to workers in back-pay.

These uncertainties, as well as the wage negotiations ahead, risk destabilising the finance ministry’s consolidation goals.

Unions have made it clear that they will not take the wage cuts lying down.

Federations organised mass protests ahead of the budget, making demands for a R12,500 minimum wage, a moratorium on retrenchments, and several other costly benefits – with indications that there will be more to come, should government proceed with its plans to freeze or cut wages.

Unions have said they will accept nothing less than an above-inflation pay increase in this year’s negotiations, and have threatened further strike action across the country should things not go their way.

Read: Government fast-tracks plan to introduce a basic income grant in South Africa

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Government workers demand an 80% increase in their minimum wage – and at least R36,000 in Covid-19 ‘danger pay’