Unions Suspend Strike to Consult – Offer is Still Not Accepted

by Sep 7, 2010All Articles

By Samantha Enslin-Payne and Bloomberg

7 September 2010

Unions have suspended the 20-day public service strike to consider the government’s revised wage offer made last week, but they warned that this did not mean the offer had been accepted.

Thobile Ntola, the president of the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), said at a media briefing in Pretoria yesterday: “Labour has decided to suspend the strike and this does not mean that we have accepted the state offer. The hope is now expressed that workers will be able to return to their workstations, and that service delivery will resume.”

Unions will continue to consult members and the government over the next 21 days on the offer, which a week ago the government increased to a 7.5 percent wage hike and a R800 monthly housing allowance from R500. This was after President Jacob Zuma ordered negotiations to resume as he sought to quell mounting criticism from his labour allies.

Leonard Gentle, the director of the International Labour Research and Information Group, said the intensity of the strike and the fact that union leaders were struggling to sell the offer to members showed that the industrial action had been driven by members.

Many people on strike are lower-middle class with bonds and are drowning in debt.

“The unions have been dragged into something they were not prepared for,” said Gentle. Union members were sceptical and had enormous fears that the settlement would not resolve long-standing issues, he added.

The wage offer also includes a commitment from the government that a minimum service agreement will be finalised this year.

Although many essential service workers, such as nurses, have embarked on strike action illegally, a minimum service agreement could ease the intensity of industrial action in the future as a percentage of essential staff would, by agreement with labour, remain on duty during industrial action.

Manie de Clercq, the deputy general manager of the Public Servants Association, said a minimum service agreement was very significant as workers in essential services went on strike without the right to strike and so in the absence of such an agreement took the law into their own hands.

If there is a minimum service agreement a certain number of people will be at work to render services. He added that such an agreement might take away the power of a strike, but if you abided by the law then essential service workers should not be on strike, he said.

“A minimum service agreement will benefit both the union, employer and the public,” said De Clercq.

Gentle said if the minimum service agreement was finalised then it was a gain for unions. But the problem is that the current strike, as in 2007, is being settled on matters that will be deferred.

“The lesson learnt is that if you don’t settle issues at the time of negotiation then they can be reneged on,” he said.

Source: http://www.busrep.co.za/

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