Threat of major national strike in South Africa

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) has threatened to embark on a nationwide strike should municipalities not meet its wage demands.

Samwu, which represents over 160,000 municipal workers across the country, has demanded a 9% increase – or R4,000 – for all workers. The South African Local Government Association (Salga) has offered a 2.8% increase.

Samwu deputy general secretary Dumisani Magagula told the Sunday Tribune that if the issue could not be concluded in the boardroom, the union would take to the streets in the interests of workers.

“Our sneakers are ready for the streets. We place on record that should the facilitator’s proposal which is expected to be issued to parties (Monday) does not address the fundamental demands put forward by our members, such a proposal will outright be rejected by our members who have given us a clear mandate for these negotiations.

“Salga wants workers to get on their knees to beg for the demands that they have put forward. We are not going to bend over backwards to Salga on the bread-and-butter issues of our members,” he said.

Economists at the Bureau of Economic Research (BER) warned that South Africa is facing an incredibly long and drawn-out period of strike threats and uncertainty due to the government’s latest austerity budget.

The group said that government has been facing an uphill battle against unions over wage hikes after budgetary constraints forced it to renege on a 2018 wage agreement, which saw public sector wages frozen in 2020.

National Treasury has also vowed to cut the public sector wage bill by R160 billion over the next three financial years.

Government has allowed the public sector wage bill to bloat significantly over the last decade, to the point that it now accounts for over a third of total government expenditure.

With little room to grow the country’s tax base – and thus increase revenue – government has no choice but to look at cutting expenditure to balance the country’s books, and finance minister Tito Mboweni has promised to do so, including a massive cut to the wage bill of R160 billion over the next three financial years.

Following the 2020 mid-term budget policy statement, analysts and economists warned that the government’s plans to cut spending and ease the burden on the economy hinged on the implementation of its promise to cut wages – which needs support from unions.

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Threat of major national strike in South Africa