Swazi Nurses & Teachers Taking Action!

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IT seems an official nurses’ strike is looming in Swaziland after the union called a special urgent meeting scheduled for today.

The meeting is for the Swaziland Nurses Democratic Union (SWADNU) National General Council, where top of the agenda is the issue of salary review and 4.5% adjustment.

SWADNU Secretary General Nkosinathi Kunene says it was time all workers in the country showed solidarity in its true meaning.

He said workers must remember that the struggle for their rights was at the same time a struggle for a new democratic economy.

‘To the prime minister’s assertion that there will be no salary increment, we say it’s not going to happen.

‘After politicians increased their salaries and allowances through Circular no.1 of 2010, they cannot now claim government is cash strapped. This we regard as sophisticated corruption which must first be uprooted.`

‘The state must prioritise the essential expenditures of the country, thereby separating the needs of government from the wants of special interests,’ Kunene said.

He added that as the nurses union they were in solidarity with the indefinite industrial action by teachers and would not be intimidated into silence and passivity by violence and repression against them.

Kunene said these acts only strengthened their resolve.

Earlier the Industrial Court in Swaziland had refused to allow the government to jail the entire executive of the teachers’ union for leading a pay strike.

The Swazi Government had previously gained an order at the same court outlawing a strike over a 4.5 per cent pay claim.

But, some members of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) went ahead with the indefinite strike.

For the past week the strikers have been visiting schools where some teachers continue to work to persuade them to join the strike.

The government claimed the SNAT was in contempt of the court order and wanted the entire executive of SNAT jailed for 30 days.

But, the Industrial Court ruled the government failed to prove that the SNAT executive were behind the strike. It also said government had failed to show that there was an urgent need to have the court rule on the matter.

Police had been using teargas and rubber bullets against striking teachers and school pupils who support them.

In South Africa most municipal employees can expect a bonanza of up to three years’ backpay after the Labour Court handed down judgment in the case brought by their unions against the Local Government Association (Salga) over the 2010 Wage Curve Collective Agreement.

The unions, the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu), represent the 230,000 municipal employees nationwide.

The unions went to the Labour Court in 2010 contending that the salary scales in the wage curve should have been increased as of 2010, whereas Salga contended that the increase should have taken effect only from 2011.

The ruling handed down in Johannesburg by Judge Annelie Basson rectifies the agreement in the manner the unions requested.

Samwu said the effect of the agreement was that pay increases for workers will be backdated to September 2009.

A wage curve regulates the salary scales for all local government employees.

The unions said that the ruling will not affect the current salary negotiations that have deadlocked.

Craig Adams, deputy general secretary of Imatu, said the ruling means that salary scales in the wage curve should have increased by 8.48%.

Walter Theledi, deputy general secretary of Samwu, said the ruling will affect most municipal employees who will have to be shifted up the salary scales. Millions of rands were involved.

Theledi said that Salga had to start working on the implementation immediately.

‘They are suffering the consequences of negotiating in bad faith.’

Tahir Sema, spokesperson for Samwu, said the belief of the unions that fraud had been committed by a Salga official was vindicated by the court.

Adams said that the wage curve will also affect new employees because they were employed under an incorrect salary scale. Theledi and Adams said it was hard to calculate how much money was owed to municipal employees.

Adams said that in 2010 Imatu went to court asking it to rectify the 2010 Wage Curve Agreement as it did not accurately reflect what the parties had originally agreed to.

‘Imatu contended the salary scales in the wage curve should have been increased as of 2010, whereas Salga said this increase should only have taken effect from 2011,’ he said.

Adams said the union was pleased with the outcome because not only did the judge rule in Imatu’s favour but they were also awarded costs.

Sema said the judgement brings to the fore the blatant dishonesty displayed by Salga officials. The attempt to deceive the unions and set back workers’ wages by one year has now been stopped.

Also, the Congress of South African Trade Union, COSATU, has backed the ANC call for investment in development.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions vehemently rejected the call by the Democratic Alliance and Solidarity for government to reject an ANC policy proposal that a portion of pension funds be prescribed for investment in developmental projects.

The ANC discussion paper on state-owned entities and development finance institutions argues for the state to ‘regulate a substantial part of retirement and life assurance funds to be invested in state-owned enterprise and/or development financial instruments’.

This is in line with COSATU’s long-standing demand for all companies and financial institutions to be obliged to invest a proportion of their funds in projects which will bring benefits to South Africa as a whole and not just profits for shareholders.

Several summit meetings of government, business, labour and civil society have adopted similar resolutions but they have remained on paper and never been implemented.

Of course pension and provident funds must be managed responsibly in order to protect the interests of the pensioners, but COSATU totally rejects the DA’s suggestion that that developmental projects are ‘speculative’ and finance institutions should invest pension funds solely on short-term returns.

DA Spokesperson David Ross cynically says that ‘this proposal could be seen as a tax on pension funds,’ and that ‘it could reduce benefits for pension fund members’.

On the contrary, it is in the long-term interest of all South Africans, including pensioners, for investment to be directed into areas such as education, healthcare, public transport, the green economy and all the basic services which are crying out for more investment.

COSATU agrees with Economic Development Minister, Ebrahim Patel, that ‘by investing in developmental projects, retirement funds benefit through a stronger economy, which in turn keeps fund members employed and contributing for longer’.

It is typical of the DA, reflecting the blinkered view of their friends in big business, that only investments that make a quick profit should be considered.

European and American pensioners are today paying the price for such short-sighted investment policies in ‘speculative’ investments in property and banking, which led to the current financial meltdown, rather than in economic infrastructure and manufacturing industry.

South Africa must avoid the same mistake of relying purely on the market to determine where money should be invested. In the long run this is far more risky than investing in the future of our country and in projects which will create employment and reduce poverty.

COSATU urges the ANC to adopt the policy proposal and for the government to implement it speedily.