MATUMA LETSOALO | JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Jul 23 2010 13:38
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Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini will meet Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi this weekend in a last bid to head off a looming wage strike by 1,3-million government employees.
The Public Servants' Association (PSA), which represents more than 200 000 public-service workers, issued a seven-day strike notice this week that is likely to see 90% of immigration and passport control officers downing tools next Thursday.
Although none of the six Cosatu-affiliated public-sector unions has so far issued a similar notice, the Mail & Guardian understands that most members are eager to join the PSA in the strike action.
Some Cosatu leaders believe the federation could use the strike to send a strong message to Jacob Zuma's government to pay closer attention to worker issues.
In 2007 Cosatu used a public service strike to denounce former president Thabo Mbeki's leadership style. Although Cosatu played a major role in bringing Zuma to power, the federation is fast running out of patience with Zuma, who is seen as dragging his heels on economic policy reform.
On Thursday National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim described the government's 6.5% wage increase offer to public servants as "pure provocation". "The government should move on its offer if it wants the dispute to be settled," he said. "It's in the interests of the country."
Sizwe Pamla, a spokesperson for the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), said most of its members were prepared to strike.
"Our members want government to move at all levels, includinghousing, medical aid and salary increases -- not just salaries," said Pamla.
He said all Cosatu unions would meet on Thursday to submit reports to the federation's joint mandating committee, which would decide how to proceed. However, Pamla said that unions were not planning to issue strike notices until they examined the government's new offer, which is expected before the end of the month. He criticised the PSA for rushing to issue the strike notice, as labour had agreed to give the government time to put something new on the table.
"We promised to engage government. We were united as labour, but unfortunately, the PSA took a decision to issue a strike notice. Our members understand that we are waiting for government," Pamla said.
He said Cosatu president Dlamini would meet the minister some time at the weekend in a bid to break the impasse.
PSA spokesperson Manie de Clercq said the union decided to issue the strike notice when it realised that the government was unwilling to move.
"With or without Cosatu unions, our members are ready to down tools on Thursday. The strike action will have a huge impact, given that 90% of immigration officers will join it," said De Clercq.
He described as "rubbish" a statement by the public service and administration department that the PSA's strike notice was premature.
"We waited for more than two months for this thing to be resolved. What are we still waiting for?" De Clercq asked.