The ongoing standoff between the labour movement and government must be resolved as a matter of urgency. This is critical because as the country we are at the precipice due to our economic situation which is at the bad state. The economy has shed more than 2.2 million workers in the second quarter due to the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Stats SA labour force survey data shows that 640 000 of the 2.2 million job losses were in the informal sector with a further 311 000 in the domestic work.
This is catastrophic for a country like South Africa with the unemployment rate of 42% expanded definition. Our economy has not been grown for more than a decade and labour strike tomorrow will compound the situation further as we try reboot the economy from the effects of the pandemic.
The issue of government reneging from the three-tier year agreement with public sector unions should have been handled differently. Government has an obligation to honour spirit and latter of the agreement. Failure to do that will send the wrong signals to other bargaining councils of different sectors of the economy. The labour relations allows for the exemption in an event the company can’t afford to pay the wages as agreed on the bargaining councils. However, there must be compelling reasons why you can’t pay, including financial disclosures confirming the dire situation of that particular company.
Therefore the government should also have compelling reasons and moral obligation why it can’t pay the public sector workers whilst Billions of Rand are being squandered by both the government departments, municipalities and State-Owned Entities.
Therefore I still contend that government under the auspices of the Public Service Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council and the labour unions should have find an amicable way of resolving the impasse rather than a tit for tat approach which has now resulted to the massive stay away from work by workers on the 7th October 2020.
The country can’t afford labour unrest with such a pedestrian economy. We need to find a unique way that includes all social partners to negotiate in good faith at Nedlac to manage all the tensions now and beyond. I, therefore, call on governments and labour to go back to the negotiating table and resolve the matter of the wage agreement. The stakes are too ghastly to contemplate we need to save our economy.
By Mafika Siphiwe Mgcina (ANC Regional Task Team Coordinator In Sedibeng) on his personal capacity.