Sa Municipal Workers Ready For Strike Action

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THE South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) says about 250,000 workers from 300 areas around the country will go on strike if last-ditch negotiations currently under way fail to produce the desired results.

Tahir Sema, a spokesman from SAMWU, said on Wednesday: ‘It will be a national strike, because the issues are of a national nature.’

Final negotiations between SAMWU and the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGA) began on Tuesday and are currently under way but remain deadlocked.

Sema added: ‘Currently there is a facilitated negotiation process taking place between Samwu and the local government bargaining council.

The talks relate to long-term employee concerns, which had not been resolved by Salga for years.

Sema continued: ‘Many of these issues have been outstanding and on the bargaining agenda for many years now.

‘The employer body’s arrogance has shown us if they weren’t willing to reach an agreement back then, chances are it won’t happen now, but we can’t say for sure.’

The union hoped that next year’s national elections would give Salga the ‘political will’ to be more flexible in its negotiations.

However, so far the employer has shown no such inclination, he said.

‘It would be in our favour if (the upcoming election) injects urgency into their negotiations, but so far we have seen none of that.’

The party’s grievances pertain to the collective agreement that governs the sector, the disciplinary code, an increase in the homeowners’ allowance and a dispute about bringing municipal-owned entities under the scope of SALGA.

The negotiations will end soon regardless of whether a deal had been struck, said SAMWU’s Sema.

After that, the union would decide what form of protest action will take place and when it will begin.

Salga did not respond to questions around why it had not responded to SAMWU’s grievances previously.

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) on Wednesday criticised the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for blaming workers for the country’s economic woes.

In its regular review of South Africa’s economy released on Tuesday, the IMF said labour unrest in South Africa has to be blamed for some of its economic woes.

It calls for a social bargain between labour and business, where trade unions make ‘commitments to wage restraint’.

COSATU national spokesman Patrick Craven said: ‘COSATU is flabbergasted by the report.

‘This in essence, means an “egg and bacon” agreement, where the business “chicken” commits to lay eggs for breakfast and calls on the worker “pig” to lay down its life to supply the bacon.’

The IMF report laid the blame for the poorly performing economy of South Africa on what it said was the ‘government’s poor record in controlling the wage bill’, and potential spill-overs from high wage demands in other sectors represent downside risks.

Referring to the report, Craven continued: ‘It is thus blaming the world capitalist crisis, brought about by the IMF’s own neo-liberal “free-market” capitalist policies, and the shocking levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality which this has caused in South Africa and elsewhere, on the main victims of that crisis – the workers and the poor.’

Referring to the South African National Development Plan (NDP), endorsed by the IMF as a blueprint for the structural reforms that will facilitate high and inclusive private sector-led growth, Craven said the endorsement of the NDP by this rabidly pro-capitalist, neo-liberal organisation ‘confirms all COSATU’s concerns about it’.

Craven continued: ‘The NDP fails to fundamentally transform the structure of the South African economy; it fails to take forward the promotion of a new growth path to industrialise the economy; it fails to place job creation at the centre of the country’s economic policy; and fails to make redistribution and the combating of inequality and poverty a pillar of economic development.

‘We call on the government of South Africa not to be misled by the IMF’s failed neo-liberal policies, but rather stick with the ANC’s proposal for a radical economic programme on which there was considerable agreement between COSATU, the ANC and SACP (South African Communist Party).

‘Capitalism, and particularly free market capitalism, cannot be a solution to high unemployment rates and slow growth. Only through industrialisation, more state intervention and strategic nationalisation of the economy will we be able to meet our job creation targets.’

Also, the South African government plans to classify education as an essential service and limit teachers’ right to strike, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said, dismissing opposition from the ruling party’s union allies.

Teachers, nurses and other state workers went on strike for 20 days in 2010, closing schools and hospitals, to secure a 7.5% wage increase and a 60% increase in housing allowances.

The deal followed nine months of talks and compared with an average inflation rate of 4.3% that year.

Motshekga added: ‘Limiting the right to strike will probably require changes to the law.

‘Teaching and health should not be treated like these other professions.

‘They are, for me, very essential services.

‘There are sensitivities about the profession which should limit how far people who enter that profession should be allowed to go, because there are situations which are extremely detrimental if they have all the full rights.

‘Teachers who want to strike should be forced to keep a skeleton staff to ensure lessons can at least partially continue.

‘If teachers are going to strike, you can’t leave students on their own,’ she added.

‘We don’t take all their rights, because teachers have a right to protest, but we must protect the children also.’

Nkosana Dolop, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) Deputy General Secretary, said: ‘People fought and people died for these rights.

‘We will challenge everybody through all means available to make sure that our rights as workers are not trampled upon.’

Meanwhile, a communication mix-up has been blamed for reports suggesting that the Communication Workers Union (CWU) was preparing for a strike at the SA Post Office (Sapo).

This came after CWU spokesman Mantakana Mothapo reportedly said they were waiting for the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to issue a certificate of non-resolution regarding a wage dispute, which would allow their members to embark on a protected strike.

The union, wants a 10% wage increase while Sapo is offering 6%.

Sapo acting chief operating officer Buzwe Yafele said talks of industrial action were not true, as mediation had not yet begun at the CCMA.

‘There seems to be some problems in their (CWU) communication. The approach is that first we have to find ways to mediate the dispute. And that process has not yet taken place. We are going to be informed by the CCMA when that will take place,’ he said.

CWU first deputy president, Clyde Mervin, said they were still waiting for a date from the CCMA regarding the mediation process.