Unions and government to square off in court over salary freeze

Unions, including some affiliated to Cosatu, will head to court over a wage increase dispute with government. File photo.
Unions, including some affiliated to Cosatu, will head to court over a wage increase dispute with government. File photo.
Image: SUNDAY TIMES

The Labour Appeals Court is expected to handle a major wage dispute case brought by public service unions against the government on Wednesday.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), the Democratic Nursing Association of SA (Denosa), the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and other unions are engaged in a legal battle with government to compel it to carry out the final phase of a three-year collective wage agreement. 

In heads of argument, lawyers for the three unions state the collective agreement, reached in January 2018 and concluded in May of that year, is binding.

“The government may not, however, seek to escape its obligations by relying on the change of circumstances. The state was fully aware it would have to lawfully find a source for the R30.2bn and opted to conclude the collective agreement for self-serving reasons,” said Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi. 

The lawyers representing the unions agree that when the agreement was concluded in 2018, it was unforeseen the government’s position might change for the worse as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

They argue that by virtue of the fact that the finance minister is a member of the cabinet and the cabinet approved the offer in January 2018, national treasury had granted its approval, constitutionally, and the minister is not permitted to renege on a cabinet decision. 

Business Day reports the department of public service and administration has asked to delay the case until after February 1 to allow further time for negotiation, but that unions have rebuffed this.

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