Key ANC ally the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) says it intends to openly defy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ban on mass gatherings of more than 100 people, saying it will support a planned national strike by its public sector affiliate over cuts to the public sector wage bill.
Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali, who attended a special executive council meeting of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), on Monday, said the federation will support the government and public entities union should it down tools and take to the street on March 30.
“Whatever action [the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu)] takes, we will support them,” Ntshalintshali said.
Ntshalintshali said Nehawu would have to “debate” the fact that going on a strike could potentially lead to more people being infected by the rapidly spreading virus that has been confirmed in more than 100 people in SA.
“They will look at all the risks but I think the message that they are sending is: they will not leave their rights just because government wants to confuse this thing with the Covid-19 [outbreak].”
Ntshalintshali said Nehawu, which is Cosatu’s largest affiliate, would have to plan the strike properly because “no person in their right mind” would want to fight for wages and in the process contract diseases. “They will have to plan that properly, but whatever decision the public sector [union] takes, we will support them,” he said.
On Sunday, Nehawu said it was “crystal clear” that the government has no intention of honouring the last leg of the three-year wage agreement signed in the public sector co-ordinating bargaining council in 2018.
The government has announced its plans to cut the public sector wage bill by more than R160bn over the next three years. Renegotiating the third year of the wage agreement is projected to cut R37.8bn from the wage bill, or just 1.5% in real terms, in 2020.