Image courtesy: Nehawu.

GOVERNMENT and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) have agreed to continue engagement on issues concerning collective bargaining and workplace conditions in the public sector, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agreement follows a high-level meeting between President Cyril Ramaphosa and the national office-bearers of the public-sector trade union, including the union’s President, Mzwandile Makwayiba, first Deputy President Mike Shingange, second Deputy President Nyameka Macanda, National Treasurer Kgomotso Makhupola and General Secretary Zola Saphetha.

The meeting followed the union’s submission of a memorandum to the President relating to, among others, improving occupational health and safety uniformly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions of service more broadly and implementation of clause 3.3 of Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) Resolution 1 of 2018, which deals with salary adjustments for the 2020/21 financial year, and which is currently the subject of litigation, according a statement issued by the Presidency.

The meeting agreed that government and Nehawu will continue work on the issues raised in the Nehawu memorandum that are currently being discussed by task teams comprising government and Nehawu.

“Reports of these task teams will be presented to a meeting of senior leadership of government and public sector unions who will meet again soon on a mutually convenient date to develop solutions in the interest of workers, the public sector and the nation and economy at large,” said the Presidency.

In terms of the litigation process, the employer is accused of failing to implement the salary increment as contained in clause 3.3 of PSCBC Resolution 1 of 2018.

NEHAWU, SADTU, POPCRU, DENOSA and SAPU declared a dispute on the interpretation and application of the agreement and went through a lengthy conciliation process.

The conciliation failed and NEHAWU, SADTU, POPCRU and DENOSA referred the matter to arbitration.

Nehawu, on Monday 21 September, marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in an effort to get their demands addressed. 

Nehawu, among others, wanted an 8% wage hike for front line workers fighting COVID-19 and better working conditions.

Nehawu’s memorandum to Ramaphosa relates to improving occupational health and safety uniformly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nehawu is also protesting against the salaries of public servants not being increased.

Among their demands are the following: 

  1. That COVID-19 not be used as an excuse to reverse the hard fought gains of workers;
  2. That government urgently take steps away from a “neoliberal economic policy paradigm”;
  3. Workplaces undergo risk assessments and infections control, and prevention measures are put in place, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act must be implemented in full to protect workers;
  4. Infected workers must return to work only when they complete the mandatory 10 days of self-isolation, have undergone a medical evaluation confirming fitness to work;
  5. Department of Health must review the process of reporting on COVID-19 fatalities in all institutions to ensure adherence with uniform standards as recommended by the WHO;
  6. Government urgently fill all vacant posts in the public healthcare sector and ensure that we start to build building blocks for the implementation of the National Health Insurance [NHI]. 

The issue of governmental wage increases is also likely to take centre stage in the coming months as restrictions around the coronavirus pandemic are eased.

Public wages are set through bargaining with unions and agreements stay in force for three years.

The current agreement is in place until March 2021.

In February government asked to review the last leg of a three-year pay agreement because it said it couldn’t afford it.

The coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the country’s financial problems with unions and government now set for a showdown.

National Treasury plans on cutting R160 billion from the public sector wage bill over the next three years – a position that has been met with opposition from public sector trade unions.

(COMPILED BY INSIDE POLITICS STAFF)

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