The South African Federation of Trade Unions’ (SAFTU) public service unions, led by the South African Policing Union (SAPU) and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) are rejecting the offer made by government in the Public Service Co-Ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) of 3% on the baseline and a non-pensionable cash gratuity, and have declared a dispute.

SAFTU unions are demanding 8% on the baseline and reject a nonpensionable gratuity.

What is at stake?

If 3% increase and a non-pensionable cash gratuity are implemented, this would mean that public service workers (public servants) would have lost real increases to their wages and pensions for three consecutive years since 2020.

Our rejection of the government offer is premised primarily on these losses. These losses are too great we cannot afford, especially at this juncture where the cost of living is spiralling for the benefit of profiteers.

The cash gratuity makes some disposable income available in the pockets of workers, and this fact, blurs the demarcation between the losses and gains of this offer by government. There are serious losses both in wages and pension that must  2022 be exposed for workers understand so that they are lured by the availability of some disposable cash to accept this offer.

Losses in wages

In a rogue manner, which was unfortunately affirmed and validated by the constitutional court, government refused to pay the increases for the financial 2020/21, citing the fiscal inability to do so. In 2021, the public service unions except for SAPU and NUPSAW, signed a wage increase of 1,5% on the baseline and a taxable but non-pensionable cash gratuity of between R1 200 and R1 650.

In 2020, the buying power of public servants’ wages took a complete dip as inflation grew by 3,3%, whilst the wages stood stagnant. In 2021, inflation increased by 4,5%, and the wage adjustments was only 1,5%, which was in reality a pay progression from 2018 multi-term agreement. The cash-gratuity cushioned the buying power of wages in 2021/22.

However, this will not be the case (cushion or improve the buying power of public servants’ wages) in this round of negotiations (2022/23) because it is the same money recycled and not increased even an inch.

The only thing that will attempt to make a difference is the 3% offer on the baseline. But considering this year’s revised and projected Consumer Price Index (CPI), the 3% will amount to decline of workers’ wages in real terms. The revised CPI projection is 6,5%; counterposed with the 3%, workers’ wages will decline by 4,5% in real terms.

Losses in pension

In 2020, pension did not increase at all, and in 2021, they increased by 1,5%. If government get its way in this round of negotiations, pensions will increase by 3%. This means workers only added 4,5% increase to their pensions since 2020. Compared to inflation in the past 3 years since 2020, which would grow by a combined 14,3% using the latest CPI forecast for 2022, the public servants would have lost 9,8% to their pensions. In the short term, this might not be seen as significant, but in the long term, these losses are significant.

Reject austerity

This is part of government programme of fiscal consolidation. Fiscal consolidation is instrument from the toolbox of neoliberal fiscal policy premised on false understanding that government’s debt is unsustainable and must be made stable through budget cuts.

In the current Medium Term Expenditure Framework, which is said to last until the first term of 2025, the public sector wage bill is planned to be cut by R303 billion. The results of this budget cut is not only wage cuts or CPI minus wage increases, but the reduction of teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, traffic officers, police officers, correctional officers, and other categories of public servants.

In addition, other areas of cuts in the public service means police officers will continue to be under-staffed whilst operating with broken cars; teachers will be understaffed whilst operating in schools that lack infrastructure and have no textbooks, libraries and internet; nurses are understaffed whilst operating in hospitals and clinics with lack of infrastructure, shortage of medicine and other working equipment, etc.

Considering that this fiscal framework is planned for the next 3 years, public servants are still going to loss dearly in wages and pensions unless they fight back. SAFTU is calling on the public service workers across all unions and federations to reject the government offer and begin a counter-offensive against the neoliberal onslaught.

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