Minister of Public Service and Administration Senzo Mchunu on Friday elected not to comment on what is perhaps the biggest challenge facing his portfolio during the coronavirus pandemic, namely a dispute over the public service wage agreement.

In his budget speech in February, Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni said he was looking to contain spending on public service wage bill to realise savings of R160.2 billion over three years.

Unions immediately pushed back against the budget proposal, clinging to a 2018 public service wage agreement in which government agreed to hike public service wages by CPI plus 1% for general workers and CPI plus 0.5% for workers at a director level from 1 April.

On the second of April, the wage deal was effectively on ice after Mboweni’s budget proposal.

Briefing reporters on Friday morning, Mchunu was asked about the status of the agreement after the department did not honour the agreed increases in April. Mchunu said the matter was under dispute and would not comment on it.

‘Sensitive’ issue

“This particular issue, sensitive as it is, is now under dispute. In other words, while the situation is that organised labour has declared a dispute. As such, this matter is sub judice, meaning it is at a stage where we are not at liberty to give details regarding what is happening,” said Mchunu.

National Education Health and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Khaya Xaba said the dispute, declared on the first of April, was still under mediation at Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council and was ongoing.

A Nehawu notice said the employer revised its proposal from the one that was rejected at the early stages of the meeting and included an available R10bn + R1bn across levels 1 – 12 of the public service workers, which was reprioritised from the current budget.

“Labour requested time to consider both the Employer’s revised proposal and the Comparative effect of the percentage increase and the proposed cash gratuity and Capped leave days off-set mechanism,” the notice said.

South African Democratic Teachers Union spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said in the 2018 agreement, a clause stated that the employer must pay the agreed amount and that a party to the agreement can declare a dispute if the agreement is not honoured.

“The report we got from the negotiators is that as part of the process the employer put in a proposal. What I can say is the conciliation process is going on again on Monday,” said Cembi.

Mboweni said last week that he would table a revised budget to Parliament, which takes into account the Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic and a R500 billion relief package.

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