South Africa is gearing up for major showdowns between workers’ unions and employers in the weeks ahead, as both sides take a hard stance on wage negotiations, the City Press reports.
Workers in the mining industry have already embarked on a three-month-long strike but they will soon be joined by the steel industry and public service workers at the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
The steelworker strike has been deferred due to an urgent interdict, forcing ‘essential workers’ to return to the job. Workers in the sector initially demanded a 15% wage increase but brought that figure down to 10%. Employers are offering 6%.
SARS workers have been threatening strike action since the start of the month – but according to the City Press, this is now going ahead with a picket planned for Monday (23 May) and a full-blown strike on Wednesday (25 May).
Unions at SARS – Nehawu and the PSA – are demanding 12% increases, with the revenue service holding firm at 0%.
“The government unashamedly offered 0% salary increase despite pronouncing that tax revenue collections target was exceeded by 25% during the 2020/2021 financial year.
“The good performance of SARS can only be attributed to the dedication and hard work by the SARS employees hence it defies logic how the same employees could be rewarded with no salary increase,” the PSA said.
SARS exceeded its revenue target by over R16 billion, the union said. Despite this, it noted that the morale of the workers at the company is at an all-time low as the revenue service has over the last three years unilaterally removed or altered employees’ benefits.
SARS said it would comment on the strike “in due course”.
Both steelwork and SARS unions are chasing these above-inflation increases for the same reason: workers have had to contend with the rising cost of living, driven by higher food, fuel and electricity prices.
Headline inflation is sitting at the top end of the Reserve Bank’s target range at 5.9% – but food, electricity and fuel inflation is far higher than this, at 6.2%, 14% and 29%, respectively. While these rising costs impact all South Africans, researchers and analysts have noted that they impact the working class more significantly.
These prices have only escalated over the last few years.
The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity group, which tracks food prices across the country, has repeatedly warned that attaching wage increases to CPI is damaging and entrenching poverty in South Africa, as it is not correctly weighted to the need of most households, causing an imbalance between wages that workers need to survive, and what employers ultimately offer.
Many workers, especially in the public sector, have had to deal with these rising costs with only the smallest of below-inflation increases over the last three years. The situation has been exacerbated by SARS’ decision to renege on the third year of negotiated increases signed in 2019.
The wider economic issues facing businesses and the government in South Africa has left very little room for negotiation, which has been the case with mineworkers and mining companies.
The sector has been stuck in a three-month-long stalemate, with mining bossies unable to meet worker demands, despite many revised offers.
Workers, meanwhile have so far lost between R1 billion and R4 billion in unpaid wages during the strike, which has reportedly begun to cause rifts between unions, the City Press said.