Public sector strike warning for South Africa

 ·26 Mar 2024

South Africa could see disruptions to public services in the policing and correctional services sector as the representative union pushes back against the 4.7% wage hike approved for next month.

Minister for Public Service and Administration Noxolo Kiviet recently announced that non-senior management service (SMS) workers in government will see salaries hiked by 4.7% from 1 April 2024.

However, the Police and Civil Rights Union (Popcru) called the hike an insult to workers and is threatening to mobilise members to march on Pretoria with its demands.

Popcru – which represents approximately 120,000 workers in the police, traffic and correctional services field – said the hike is insufficient to contend with the rising cost of living, and is demanding an above-inflation hike.

The union acknowledged that the hike was part of the two-year public sector wage agreement signed in 2023 – guaranteeing an inflation-linked increase in 2024/25 – but added that it refused to sign the agreement.

In addition, the union noted that the 4.7% increase approved by the government falls below inflation anyway, so it is outside of the agreement.

Inflation has remained persistently high in South Africa, reaching 5.6% in February. However, projections are still for inflation to average between 4.5% and 4.7% in 2024 as a whole.

Despite this, the union said that the hike is not enough to address the rising cost of living in South Africa, leaving workers in the lurch after five years of what it calls wage freezes.

“This salary increment demonstrates the government’s arrogance towards the public service. It is not enough to better the lives of the working class and public servants or even to keep up with rising costs of living.

“As a result, the feedback we have received on this increase is very negative, especially after five years of wage freezes and below-inflation salary increases,” the union said.

“We did not believe the lie that this was the best deal the government could offer as employers, which is why we refused to sign the agreement. And it’s clear now that this has been one of the worst deals for public servants yet, matched only by the non-implementation of the last leg of the 2018 wage agreement.”

The union said that the government has “parked” public service wages for five years, which has led to growing dissatisfaction among the workforce.

It noted that this dissatisfaction has been brewing since 2020 when the government reneged on the third leg of its 2018 Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) Resolution agreement, which promised public servants increases of up to 1% above inflation for the 2020/2021 year.

In 2021, workers were instead given a non-pensionable cash allowance of between R1,220 and R1,695 per month. The allowance functioned as an add-on to salaries, making it subject to taxation, and did not account for changes in the cost of living or inflation, eroding workers’ purchasing power, it said.

According to Popcru, another unintended consequence has been that pension funds have remained virtually stagnant ever since.

“Popcru subsequently embarked on a national march in September 2022 to demand the implementation of the third leg of the 2018 agreement, the reversal of the unilateral implementation of a meagre 3% wage hike for 2022/2023, and an end to austerity measures.”

The union has now threatened to once again mobilise and march against the ANC-led government, breaking away from resolutions to support the party along with other Cosatu affiliates.

The union is demanding an increase in wages above inflation and threatening further action if these demands are not met.

“We will fight to protect the hard-earned gains made during the democratic revolution, and we are willing to march to Pretoria if necessary to ensure our members’ voices are heard. We are not asking for above-inflation wage increases – we are demanding,” it said.

With the elections around the corner, the union said that the concerns of workers have been disregarded, warning parties that no matter who is elected in May, workers will still be there beyond the vote.

“If the government, as the employer, refuses to heed our calls, then we will make them listen,” it said.

Read: Criminals in South Africa are evolving – and the police can’t keep up

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