Unions representing some 800,000 public servants are demanding wage increases amid the rising cost of living.
Thousands of public sector workers in South Africa have embarked on a nationwide strike demanding better wages.
Tuesday’s “National Day of Action” comes after wage negotiations between unions and government failed; the government offered a 3 percent wage increase, but unions are demanding 10 percent amid soaring inflation.
The dispute between the government and its employees increases pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is seeking re-election as leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
Seven unions, representing some 800,000 public servants, including those who work in hospitals, schools and police stations, are marching in eight provinces of the country. Last week, members vowed to picket and demonstrate outside hospitals, ports and government offices in a “show of force.”
“With the rapidly rising cost of living… the government wants public servants to be at peace with fewer increases in inflation. This cannot be sustained,” the unions said in a joint statement last week.
Inflation in South Africa was 7.5 percent in September, down from a peak of 7.8 percent in July.
Earlier this month, Labor Minister Thulas Nxesi said the government would unilaterally implement a blanket 3 percent increase, an offer workers’ representatives rejected as “insignificant.”
Last week, in an attempt to avoid the strike, the government made a final offer of an effective 7.5 percent wage increase, comprising 3 percent pensionable funds and 4.5 percent non-pensionable funds. . But in a joint statement on November 18, the unions called the news of the offer “misleading”.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said during his October mini-budget speech that the government could only afford an average wage increase of 3.3 percent.
Speaking to local news channel eNCA at a march in Pretoria on Tuesday, December Mavuso, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Education, Health and Allied Workers (Nehawu), said the unions are open to bargaining “as long as workers receive inflation-related benefits.” increase so that the value of their payment packages is not eroded by inflation.
“Three percent is really next to nothing, which is why we want an improvement in the offer and the government must return to negotiations so that we resolve this dispute properly,” Mavuso added.
He also said that the unions do not believe that the government cannot afford the increases. “There is money, we do not believe that there is no money. But the neoliberal austerity program being implemented by the government is creating problems.”
The strikes come on the eve of the ruling ANC’s elective conference next month. Ramaphosa, who also faces allegations that he tried to cover up a multi-million dollar cash heist at his country house, is seeking a second term as head of the ANC.
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