The public sector wage saga intensifies as unions demand a 10% wage increase.

Sadtu and Natu members protest

Unions representing South Africa’s 1.3 million state workers have called for wage increases of 10% to help offset the soaring costs of electricity, transportation and food.

Unions are also pushing for a one-year wage deal because they no longer trust the government to honor long-term deals, according to a presentation they made Wednesday to the public sector bargaining council.

This comes after the government reneged on hikes agreed in 2020, the final year of a three-year deal, on the grounds that it was inaccessible.

Remuneration of civil servants accounts for nearly a third of total government spending, and yielding to demands for inflation-beating hikes would derail the National Treasury’s plans to curb the budget deficit and bring runaway state debt under control. Credit rating firms have repeatedly cited South Africa’s high wages as a major risk to state finances. The annual rate of consumer inflation is currently 5.9%.

When the government backtracked on the 2018 deal, it argued that the Department of Civil Service and Administration did not have a mandate from the Treasury to sign the terms – a position supported by the Constitutional Court. The unions now want written confirmation from the Treasury that it has delegated the necessary negotiating authority to the department.

Other demands from trade unions include:

  • An R2 500 increase in monthly housing subsidies.
  • Compensation of 12% of the basic salary of workers in the event of a strike of disasters such as the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Permanent employment for teaching assistants, community workers and security force reservists.

The government will respond to the demands of the unions on May 19. The February budget estimates that the state’s annual wage will increase on average 1.8% annually over the next three fiscal years.

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