Benson Ngqentsu | Public sector unions must not back down in salary negotiations


Benson Ngqentsu

Cosatu members demand Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis to come and address them. Photo: News 24/ Marvin Charles

Cosatu members demand Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis to come and address them. Photo: News 24/ Marvin Charles


The writing is on the wall. The organised section of the working class in the public service is not succumbing to the dictates of the neoliberal and austerity forces.

The resolute and fighting stance adopted by the trade union movement in the Public Sector Bargaining Council (PSBC) is more than a salary dispute between government and its employees. It is a fierce broader battle against neo-liberalism and austerity as the present economic trajectory in South Africa. Against this background, to the workers, remain resolute, do not mourn, do not retreat and mobilise beyond the public service for support in the fight against neo-liberalism and austerity.

Neoliberalism, as a model of a free market capitalism’s basic tenet, is amongst others based on greatly reduced government social spending, deregulation and privatisation. Thus at the recent salary negotiations, the government insisted on the 2% salary increase as a final offer against the new demand by organised labour from 10% to 8%, a position which led to organised labour declaring a dispute with the PSBC.

READ: Union’s new approach to salary demands

Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that neoliberal and austerity forces in our government and within the movement have already committed to the Western rating agencies and Bretton Woods Institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, about their compliance to their prescripts of reducing government social spending. Neoliberals see salary increases for the workers and funding of public services, such as health, education and safety for our people to mention but a few, as government’s reckless spending. Such a notion must be rejected.

The current offer of 2% simply does nothing to arrest the continued pauperisation of the working class.

READ: Cosatu rejects wage offer, state refuses to budge

Inflation forecasts by the SA Reserve Bank should not only be treated as a bourgeoisie index for banks, big business and government to set their fiscal direction. It should also be the minimum acceptable rate at which working class wages or salaries are increased, be it in the private sector or in this case, the public sector.

Government has a choice to make – does it want to risk a strike of 1.3 million crucial public sector workers or does it want to create a virtuous cycle of growth by putting adequate money into the pockets of 1.3 million workers, stimulating the economy and injecting much-needed relief into local economies, communities and families?

In our view, the choice is between regression and growth.

READ: Inside Labour | Turmoil looms in public sector wage dispute

Further, the labour movement from across affiliations must go out and make the broadest section of the working class aware about the direct implication the present neoliberal trajectory makes to lives and livelihood.

Let us make our people know the fact that there are not enough nurses, doctors, resources, no medicine in public health care, no sufficient police vans, no sufficient detectives, shortage of personnel in government institutions, no regular operations, no massive building of schools and not enough CCMA commissioners, among other things, is because of austerity measures.

READ: Cosatu hits back in public sector wage dispute

Thus, when the public sector workers ultimately go on strike, they must be joined by the broadest section of the working class who also bear the brunt of neoliberalism and austerity. Therefore, the national day of action, August 24 2022, declared by both Cosatu and Saftu should be an important launch of the working class’ fight back against neoliberalism and austerity.

Benson Ngqentsu is the SACP’s provincial secretary in the Western Cape.

Source: South African Communist Party