Education International
Education International

SADTU members remain on indefinite strike over pay

published 2 September 2010 updated 2 September 2010

Public sector unions in South Africa have been in negotiation with the government to secure a living wage and increased housing allowances for workers.

The government’s original offer, made after demonstrations in Pretoria and Cape Town, was unacceptable, and on 17 August members voted to go on strike until their demands are met.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) national executive committee voted unanimously for a full scale indefinite strike over wages with a total shut down from 18 August, after its members rejected the government’s offer of R700 for housing allowance, seven per cent of salary adjustment, and a 1 July implementation date.SADTU members also voted overwhelming to support a strike.

Teachers’ demands remain: an 8.6% salary adjustment; R1,000 for housing allowance, equalisation of medical aid, and a 1 April implementation date.

A SADTU spokesman said: “The government has a responsibility to honour the demands by workers without trivialising them. Politics cannot be separated from the struggle for labour rights. It must be clear that wages cannot be separated from service delivery, so is politics. Current macro-economic policy, which is a political matter, is responsible for low wages in the public services.”

With teachers and nurses on strike, schools and hospitals have been in disarray. The South African government has since increased its wage offer to more than a million striking public sector workers.

President Jacob Zuma called for fresh attempts at reconciliation as the two-week long strike has seen many schools and hospitals grind to a halt. Earlier this week, his representatives raised their pay offer to 7.5% and the unions are now balloting their members on whether to accept the new offer.

Zwelenzima Vavi, secretary general of the COSATU, the trade union federation, said his team had fought hard to push the government offer up to eight per cent but it was for union members to decide whether it was acceptable.

"We fought very hard but it was not possible. It could take a week or two of the same scale of the strike to get the government to move," he said.

"The question that our members have to answer is whether it is necessary – considering all related matters – or is it at the point of victory at this particular point?"

Mr Zuma's call to revive talks is seen to be driven by politics as much as economics because he has been stung by criticism from striking workers that he has been on a trade mission to China – while the nurses, teachers and other civil servants have been on the streets demanding more pay.

The president also needs to restore relations with the unions, his key power base, ahead of a policy conference of his party, the African National Congress, in three weeks' time.