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Government and Nehawu agree more talks are needed to address workers' grievances

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: Esa Alexander

The government and the country's largest public sector trade union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), have agreed to more talks about issues concerning collective bargaining and workplace conditions, particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A government delegation led by President Cyril Ramaphosa met the Nehawu leadership in Pretoria on Friday after the union's submission of a memorandum to the government earlier this month.

The memorandum related to the possibility of salaries of public servants not being increased this year, as well as alleged lapses in the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ramaphosa's acting spokesperson, Tyrone Seale, said the meeting — according to him characterised by a frank and cordial exchange of views and information — agreed that the government and Nehawu will continue to work on the issues raised in the union's memorandum, and that the issues are being discussed by task teams comprising the government and Nehawu.

Seale said reports of these task teams will be presented to the next meeting of the two groups to develop solutions in the interest of workers, the public sector, the nation and economy at large.

Representing the government alongside Ramaphosa were minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu, minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi, minister for public service and administration Senzo Mchunu and deputy minister of health Dr Joe Phaahla.

The union’s president, Mzwandile Makwayiba, and his two deputies, Mike Shingange and Nyameka Macanda, national treasurer Kgomotso Makhupola and general secretary Zola Saphetha represented Nehawu.

The meeting followed the union’s submission of a memorandum to the government on September 3 in which it gave Ramaphosa a week to respond to its demands.

Part of Nehawu's demands for improved workplace safety is the procurement and provision of adequate PPE for front-line workers, based on “credible figures of the total workforce” and the type of work performed by occupational categories of employees.

“We [also] demand government urgently fill all vacant posts in the public health-care sector and ensure that we start to build the building blocks for the implementation of the National Health Insurance [NHI] scheme,” said the union.

Nehawu members staged a protest at the Union Buildings on Monday, demanding “an adequate and positive” response from Ramaphosa.

“Unfortunately, since we submitted the memorandum of demands to the president, he has not responded to our demands as he was given seven days to respond which expired on September 10,” said Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba at the time.

The union has previously said it would be difficult for it to convince its members who are going through tough times caused by decisions taken by ANC deployees in the government to vote for the same party in the local government elections next year.

Xaba said the issue of salary increases was most important as front-line workers were now subjected to poverty.