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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU Assistant General Secretary, to Public Sector Unions March on Parliament

25 July 1997, Cape Town


Public Sector workers who have marched here today are the hands and feet of the RDP. It is teachers, nurses, policemen and policewomen, street-sweepers, cleaners and clerks who keep the wheels of government turning. It is public sector workers who must do the work if South Africans are to enjoy `a better life for all'. It is public sector workers who must work to improve education, make us feel safe and secure, improve public health care, and ensure greater access to water and sanitation.

As we gather here today, it is not a joyous occasion. It is not to celebrate the success of the RDP. Instead we are gathered in an angry mood. Our government has failed to negotiate with us in good faith, it has not stuck to its previous agreements and it has failed to structure the bargaining process in a way that will lead to a constructive outcome. In short, the trust between COSATU's public sector unions and the government's negotiating team has suffered a serious set-back and our relations are at an all time low.

As the largest employer in South Africa and with the ANC in power, we would expect government to set a good example - and be a model - for other employers. We would expect government to lead the way in closing the apartheid wage gap. We would expect government to lead the way in adopting progressive, well organised bargaining practices. And, we would expect government to lead the way in implementing dynamic training and human resource development programmes.

Instead, we are faced with a situation: where government's participation in collective bargaining is so short-sighted and unco-ordinated that it makes deals with minority unions and tries to marginalise the COSATU unions which represent a clear majority of public sector workers, where the composition and function of government's negotiating team is so disorganised and confused that it spends more time arguing with itself than taking forward negotiations, where government has tied its own hands through GEAR without negotiating the impact of its spending cuts and down-sizing with the workers who are to be effected by these policies, where there is danger that the apartheid wage gap will be widened as top managers are allowed to negotiate in their own bargaining chamber, where positive, worker-friendly programmes like effective affirmative action programmes and training and skills development are slipping off the agenda.

Our immediate demands are that there should be: a closure of the apartheid wage gap, a minimum wage of R21 000 per annum, a 9 percent increase for all worker up to the level of deputy director, a salary freeze for the top managers, a renegotiation of grading and ranking, the implementation of a human resource development policy, an agreement on the workload and redeployment of school teachers, and an agreement on the definition of right-sizing the public service.

An agreement on the definition of right-sizing is very important because it makes no sense for government to rush into cutting back the size of the public service without first assessing how many employees it needs to effectively serve and improve the lives of all South Africans, instead of just servicing the white minority as it was under apartheid. To achieve reconstruction and development, we need a public service that is the `right-size' to effectively deliver services for all South Africans.

In the longer term, we demand that a national framework agreement for the restructuring public sector be put into place. This agreement should include the negotiation of a wage policy framework for the public service, renegotiation of Public Service Staff Codes, redefinition of the demarcations and sectoral bargaining councils in the public service, negotiation of career pathing programmes and programmes for improved service delivery.

COSATU's public sector unions represent over 300 000 public sector workers, whereas the 16 other unions together only represent about 260 000 workers. We are gathered here today to insist that our grievances must be taken seriously. We call on our leaders and comrades in government to take note of our problems and our demands.

The failure of the public sector collective bargaining apparatus has left us in a critical predicament where the majority of organised workers in the public sector are in serious dispute with their employer. The country cannot afford this situation to persist, but equally workers cannot afford a situation where government fails to show any serious commitment to addressing their problems and to transforming employment relations in the public sector.

We therefore call on government to heed workers' demands. We trust that our leaders at the highest level are giving this matter their serious attention.