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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Congress  |  Declarations

Declaration on the Public Service Dispute

Adopted by COSATU Special Congress, 20 August 1999

We the delegates to this Special National Congress of COSATU, representing 17 affiliated unions with a total membership of 1 786 495


  1. The current wage dispute in the public service, and the negotiations that have dragged on for eight months.

  2. During this time government - as the employer - has negotiated in bad faith: preferring to announce the salary increase in Parliament - and refusing to depart from this position - rather than to negotiate meaningfully with the unions at the bargaining table.

  3. The employee parties to the dispute have consistently demonstrated a willingness to negotiate and compromise in pursuit of a genuine settlement. While employee parties have shifted their demand by more than 100% the employer has shifted 1,3% only.

  4. That the employer has used questionable tactics which further undermine good faith bargaining, in particular:

    1. The "dirty tricks" campaign of disinformation, and statements released to the press without consulting with the unions, and conducting the dispute in the media.

    2. The constant refrain - " there is no money" - intoned each time before an additional offer is made. The government has refused to consider options unions have put forward in respect of how funds could be obtained to finance increases. The real issue is government fiscal austerity measures: wage cuts; social budget cuts, downsizing and privatisation.

    3. The tardiness of managers in the public sector in defining "essential workers" and negotiating appropriate skeleton staff and other measures to be taken during strikes. Consequently, the employer now feels free to issue threats for disciplinary action against all workers in health, police and prison sectors - regardless of whether their tasks can be construed as essential or not.

    4. Trying to isolate and undermine workers demands by posing the dispute as being about "general" interest versus "sectoral" ("selfish", "economist") interests of public sector workers.

    5. Counter-posing public service salaries against other forms of public expenditure and social delivery in general.

    6. Linking the salary issue to staffing levels in the media coverage - i.e. the higher the settlement, the more retrenchments will be required.

    7. The announcement of a "retrenchment tool" that will be negotiated and finalised by December 1999, resulting in massive retrenchments - this despite the agreements around skills and services audit, and the public sector summit, where such issues could be looked at and discussed.

  5. The employer`s "final offer" is below the average rate of inflation between implementation dates (July 1998 to July 1999), amounting to a real wage cut for members in the public service.

  6. The government has now declared its latest offer as policy, thus unilaterally imposing a salary settlement on the public service employees.

Believing that:

  1. The unilateral actions of the government amount to a denial of basic labour rights in the public service, and sets a dangerous precedent which potentially weakens collective bargaining in the private sector as well.

  2. The government is undermining the spirit of its own labour laws on collective bargaining - which can only be in the interests of capitalists and other reactionary forces.

  3. The current assault on labour rights smacks of an attempt to pursue a top-down unilateral process of restructuring, without proper consultation with stakeholders and without due regard to the interests of the working people and their families.

  4. The labour movement must always seek to defend and maintain the hard-won rights of workers.

  5. The government attack on the demands of public sector unions as "selfish" is an insult to the progressive organized labour and working class in general. It must be said that public service employment of more than one million workers, is fundamental to working class livelihoods and their communities, in a context of current mass job losses and little social wage guarantees.

  6. The unresolved labour issues in the public service have the potential to undermine the objectives of transformation in the public sector and enhanced social delivery.

  7. The actions of the government are not in accord with spirit of the Tripartite Alliance, and indicate a greater concern to appease the international capital than to enhance workers rights and speed up delivery.

Therefore declare and resolve:

  1. To continue to support the public sector unions in their legitimate struggles to fight for a living wage;

  2. To condemn, in the strongest terms, the unilateral actions of the government taken to impose a settlement which is below average inflation - these actions undermine collective bargaining and set a dangerous precedent for other employers;

  3. To actively support the industrial actions of our unions in pursuit their legitimate demands;

  4. To call upon all affiliates to begin the process of engaging secondary strike action and other forms of solidarity action;

  5. To demand that the employer comes back to negotiating table;

  6. To call on the government to:

    1. Seek a negotiated settlement of the current salary dispute with public sector unions and genuinely engages with unions on the funding options we have advanced to meet the current demands;

    2. Desist from announcement of salary increases in Parliament before meaningful negotiations can take place with unions;

    3. Ensure that there is a meaningful engagement by different structures of civil society in the budgetary processes;

    4. Ensure that government begins the process of putting in place of remuneration policy for the public service;

    5. Initiate an urgent meeting of the Tripartite Alliance to intervene by way of resolving the dispute.