Strike on a knife-edge

Date: 12 Jun 2007
Cosatu warns of violence over sackings as deal is mooted Some striking hospital workers received dismissal notices as the government and public service unions returned to the bargaining chamber to consider a compromise mooted by mediators. And in a development yesterday, the representative body for all municipalities, the SA Local Government Association, approached the Labour Court to prevent the SA Municipal Workers' Union from going on strike in sympathy with the public servants. One union, the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie (SAOU), said yesterday that facilitators Charles Nupen and Meshack Ravuku's proposal included a general salary adjustment of 7,25%, with effect from July 1, and an annual salary adjustment on July 1 based on the projected CPIX for the period April 1 2008 to March 31 2009, plus 1%. It also included an occupation-specific dispensation for education for all post levels with effect from January 1 2008; a comprehensive joint review of the current housing allowance by the government; and for the maximum employer subsidy for members of the Government Employees Medical Scheme to be increased. It was unclear how the proposal's occupation-specific dispensations would affect employees in the health and other sectors. The SAOU said it was considering the proposal and its continued involvement in the strike. Other unions indicated a willingness at the weekend to settle at 10%, against the government's 6,5%. Meanwhile, Gauteng health spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said yesterday that 384 employees would be affected by the dismissal of workers who have participated illegally in the 11-day-old strike. The only other province to give statistics yesterday was the Western Cape, where 75 health workers had been axed, 15 of whom were nurses and the balance support staff, provincial spokesperson Faiza Steyn said. Those dismissed included nurses and people involved in administration, laundry, food, security, cleaning services and transport, Gauteng Department of Health spokesperson Zanele Mngadi said. Notices were placed on the doors at Johannesburg Hospital and Chris Hani-Baragwanath with the names of the dismissed workers. However, some unions have warned that the step would inflame passions further. "There can be no wage settlement if the employer raises the axe of dismissals on the neck of workers," said National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union general secretary Fikile Majola. Cosatu president Willie Madisha assured workers that the federation would secure their jobs. "We will make sure that no one is dismissed," he said. Madisha said the labour federation was aware of about 2 500 letters of termination of service sent to nurses and other striking workers in the Western Cape, and even more in KwaZulu Natal and other provinces. And Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned that the strike could soon turn violent. "Workers will soon be angry, they will be frustrated and they will see anybody going to work - irrespective of how genuine their reasons are - as basically betraying their cause. And very soon the strike will turn violent," he said. The leader of the Independent Labour Caucus, Manie de Clerq, said: "There must be due process. That is the basis on which we will fight the whole thing, should our members be dismissed." De Clerq scoffed at the contention by the government that employees who had been ill or were intimidated could contest their dismissals. "Surely the employees also have the right to be heard, it's as simple as that. We already have a shortage of nurses and we are now firing employees despite that," he said. The new mediators' proposal has also received mixed reaction. Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said: "We are currently considering the proposal … The government remains committed to the negotiation process … and is hopeful that the latest development will lead to a settlement that is in the interests of public servants, the state and people of South Africa." But Madisha said Cosatu's affiliated public service unions would not agree to the proposal. He said that taking rising fuel and food prices into consideration, a 7,25% increase would actually mean a decrease in pay in real terms. By Bonile Ngqiyaza & Sapa The Star 12/06/07 e1