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The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the biggest public sector union, has promised intensified action towards winning their wage demands and will continue as long as their employer is not prepared to listen. They reject the 3% wage increase and demand 10% or anything in line or above the inflation rate. Last week’s strike which was reported to have resulted in the disruption of services at major healthcare facilities, is set to resume again this week amidst some litigation from the employer and attempts to resolve the impasse at the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). During their briefing called on Sunday, the union says they regret the loss of lives but can’t carry the blame alone.

The union blames the government for failing to implement a minimum service level agreement once the sector had been declared an essential service and this would have prevented some adverse consequences of the strike. “They want to create an impression that everybody in the health sector including corporate and administration staff is an essential service worker and that is not true,” said deputy secretary of the union, December Mavuso. Part of their proposed settlement agreement on the wage impasse is that this issue should be resolved within six months in council.

“On Tuesday, our members will be back to the picket lines. We are busy now engaging them on what the judgment from the courts entails. We are also engaging with other unions to join us,” says the general secretary of the union, Zola Saphetha. He says no guarantee can be given on when the strike will end but that this will depend entirely on how serious the employer is in the negotiation processes.

“The 2022/23 offer is still in dispute, hence our strike. We are resolute in rejecting 3% given the average inflation rate of nearly 7% in the 2022/23 financial year. We could not jump into a new wage bargaining round for 2023/24 when the employer has effectively just unilaterally imposed a wage cut of 4% in the pay-packet of an average public servant. At stake is not just the wage dispute of 2022/23. It is also a collective bargaining given the unilateralism that is now prevailing in the public sector,” reads the statement.

Meanwhile the public spat and the perceived erosion of unity among the Cosatu affiliates resurfaced when Sadtu (South African Democratic Teachers Union) last week in Eastern Cape accused Nehawu of “thuggery and bullying” when they tried to force their members to join the strike.

“We have reached a point where we have accepted that Nehawu is an opponent and not a sister union and shall be treated as such. We are not going to tolerate barbaric behavior in the name of being militant. This is not militancy but anarchy. It is pseudo militancy decorated with lies misleading its members and forcing everyone to accept their lies as the truth because they shout it every day,” said the teacher’s union.

Responding to this on the sideline of the press briefing, Nehawu president Mike Shingange says they would not want to engage their sister union on the public platform. “What we know is that no worker is striking against another worker. The interests of the workers are the same irrespective of their unions. They are all exploited. Our strike is directed at the employer. If it was the employer calling us names we would understand because it would be to weaken our strike and divide us. But for other people who stand to benefit out of this, we would not understand,” he said.

“Also to engage Sadtu on that right now is not good for our health. The focus now is on wage demands, said Zola Saphetha. 

Another union in the public sector, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), expressed their support for Nehawu. “The 3% that the government unilaterally implemented is an insult to the public servant. The frustration which fuelled the industrial actions has been created by an employer who is not willing towards a solution to the impasse. … We call on the employer to come to facilitation and engage in good faith,” said Denosa.