Govt calls for an end to strike

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pretoria - Government has once again called on negotiators in the public sector strike to find a "win win" solution to end the mass action that has halted schooling and hospital services across the country.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, spokesperson Themba Maseko on Thursday said government remained optimistic that a solution will be reached soon to end the strike that has now entered its third week.

"Cabinet urged the negotiators to find an amicable win win solution sooner so that life can return to normal for the thousands of South Africans who are unable to access essential services such as medical care and preparations for the end of the year examinations," he said.

Government was particularly concerned about the disruption of services in places such as hospitals and schools.

"No nation can allow the sick to die because health care workers are on strike. No nation can prevent families from burying their dead. No nation can afford to put the future of thousands of young people on hold because of strike action," said Maseko.

More than a million public servants downed tools 15 days ago demanding an 8.6 percent wage increase and R1000 housing allowance. The government's offer initially stood at 6.5 percent and a R620 housing allowance, but after intense negotiations a final offer of 7.5 percent and R800 housing allowance has been put on the table.

Several unions were on Thursday still mulling over the new offer while others have rejected it.

Maseko said the offer of 7.5 percent and R800 housing allowance would cost the state about R6.5 billion.

"Government will continue to do all it can to bring an end to the strike. While the worker's demands are fully understandable, this does not take away the fact that the state can only agree to a wage settlement that it can afford," he said, adding that the money would have to be taken from elsewhere.

"Simply put, there is no money available. The resources to cover the draft agreement proposal will have to come from reducing expenditure in other areas of the budget."

Maseko said government had a mandate to deliver a variety of service to communities including building more houses, roads and clinics, employing more teachers and nurses, supplying books and other learner support materials, supplying equipment and medicines to hospitals and continuing with infrastructure development programs to grow the economy.

Salaries already consume 40 percent of all revenue collected and increasing the salary bill would have negative on the delivery of other services. Maseko said the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan would provide more details on the source of funding and the financial implications.

"This does not suggest that government does not acknowledge the need to improve the salaries of state employees. While we understand the economic hardship facing state employees and the rest of the population, it is important for everyone to understand the negative effect of higher salaries on other services," he added.

He did not rule out the possibility of freezing thousands of vacant posts in the public sector as a result of the salary increases.

"What this means is that because of this offer which is now 7.5 percent there will be a need to cut on other essential services and this could include teachers ending up with less textbooks to at schools and the freezing of existing vacant posts," he said.

Maseko said analysts had placed the cost of the strike to the country's economy at R1 billion a day.