Cape Town – A bitter inter-union dispute emerged on Thursday evening as already long-standing talks over pay and working conditions in the public sector headed towards another deadlock.
Of the seven unions comprising the labour side in the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), perhaps the single biggest single union has given notice of possible strike action should a deal not be agreed on soon.
This action by the PSA (Public Servants Association) was condemned by Cosatu, the federation to which the other six unions are affiliated. Now, the PSA says, the Cosatu unions – all part of the governing ANC-led alliance – have joined with “the employer” and threatened to exclude the PSA from future negotiations.
Cosatu argues that by declaring a dispute and seeking official permission for industrial action, the PSA has shown it has no further confidence in the bargaining process. It would therefore be “hypocritical” for the PSA to continue to participate in talks, Cosatu said.
The PSA, however, sees the dispute declaration as further pressure on government to settle in line with offers that were on the table in January.
If the Cosatu unions were to sign a deal, a strike by the PSA would not be legally possible, since the six Cosatu unions together form a majority. The PSCBC‘s regulations specify that the majority rules.
A further complication in the negotiation process was the unseating of former president Jacob Zuma and the subsequent Cabinet reshuffle that delivered a new public services minister, Ayanda Dlodlo. Dlodlo tabled a new set of proposals, seen by the unions as being more in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s intention to cut back on state spending.
In February, Ramaphosa told Parliament: “It is critical that the structure and size of the state is optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources.
“We will therefore initiate a process to review the configuration, number and size of national government departments.”
This caused concern among public sector ranks, reignited this week when Dlodlo told Parliament she was seeking ways to “achieve efficiencies and do away with the challenges we face in the current structure and size of the public service”. Public sector workers feared this spelled job cuts and austerity measures.
To further complicate the issue, four public sector unions that are effectively breakaways from Cosatu have formed a “working together agreement” with the SA Policing Union (Sapu). They have now lodged a claim to be represented at the PSCBC. All five are affiliates of the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), headed by former Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.
Even with the Sapu-linked unions offering their support, however, the PSA will not have a majority.
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