Major municipal strike on the cards for South Africa as union ‘gears up for war’

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) has threatened to embark on a nationwide strike after it failed to come to an agreement with the government and facilitators on worker’s wage demands.

Samwu, which represents over 160,000 municipal workers across the country, has rejected proposals made at the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC), which it says are in line with previous offers made by the government.

The latest proposal from facilitators would see workers receive a three-year salary and wage agreement, including a 4% salary increase in the first year of the agreement and projected CPI minus 1% in the outer years of the agreement.

Samwu has previously demanded a 9% increase – or R4,000 – for all workers.

The union said its members have formally voted against the proposal as it does not address their demands. Samwu said that it was now also embarking on a formal process to start strike action.

“The union is also in the process of concluding balloting for a potential strike in the sector as required by law.”

The results of this process will be made known before parties in the SALGBC reconvene on 1 and 2 July 2021, it said.

“We urge our members to participate in the process of balloting and to properly mandate the union on a way forward since talks between parties have not yielded any positive results. We further urge our members to gear up and prepare themselves for the upcoming war with the employer in demand of decent salary increments.”

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 the 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.

The 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 – the 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.

Read: Harder lockdown for South Africa beckons as Gauteng passes 10,000 daily Covid cases

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Major municipal strike on the cards for South Africa as union ‘gears up for war’