IS IT ABOUT WHO DECLARES THE DISPUTE FIRST OR THE WORKERS AND THE COMMUNITIES?
The Joint Mandating Committee (JMC) of the public sector trade unions (DENOSA, NEHAWU, PAWUSA, POPCRU, SADTU, SAEPU, and SAMATU) organised under COSATU, who command the majority at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) wish to update its members on the facilitation process engaged to unlock the impasse at the ongoing salary negotiation in the public service. This statement also seeks to respond to “the beauty contest of who has declared a dispute first and the beauty pageant tendencies at the expense of labour unity”.
The COSATU unions and the others who are still pursuing the facilitation process respect the rights of those who have decided to walk out of the facilitation and declared disputes. It’s their rights to do so as much as it the right of the unions remaining in the chamber to negotiate on behalf of their members. These unions that are continuing to give the facilitation a chance to get exhaust all the available avenues on behalf of their members believe in the unity of labour because we derive our strength from the unity.
The parties could not find each other since the tabling of the demands since the 1st March 2021 as a united labour, and this led to labour collectively declaring a deadlock on the 23 April 2021. Inspired by the plight of our members and the public we serve we explored deadlock breaking mechanism in the form of facilitation. This is not the first time in the history of negotiations where we have involved the independent facilitators.
As a way to unlock the impasse parties agreed on a ten-days facilitation process and the services of International Labour Organisation (ILO) together with an independent facilitator were sort to ensure objectivity and impartiality. This round of negotiations is most difficult because trust between labour and employer was damaged by the failure of employer to honour the last leg of Resolution 1 of 2018. To create a conducive bargaining situation and address trust deficit, the involvement of the independent facilitator was necessary.
The facilitation process started on Sunday, 09th of May 2021 and on day three into the process, the PSA exercised its right to declare a dispute. What necessitated this clarity is that the media is obsessed with its narrative that the PSA is the majority union in the PSCBC and therefore the facilitation has collapsed. This is very far from the truth because those constituting the majority are focused on finding a solution and not grandstanding. We believe that this narrative seeks to create an impression that the majority unions are led by the PSA and the view of those manufacturing such public consent about the narrative are hoping to confuse our members. Is it about who declares the dispute first or about finding an amicable solution as a united force? We believe that this ‘we were the first time declare a dispute fashion parade’ is meant to paint other unions that are serving the best interest of their members as selling out. This view was confirmed by the president of the PSA in an radio interview on the 11th May where he said other union follow them and join them after realizing them(PSA) are right. He made an example of the court case where his union filed papers and later the rest joined them. It’s this type of unionism if it even qualifies to be called unionism at all because reducing the genuine concerns of the workers as represented in the form of demands, into a media recruitment competition is detrimental to the interest of the workers. These types of unions we believe are not different from capitalism which turns every crisis into profit. We view this disaster capitalism type of unionism as benefiting the employer because it is based on destroying the unity of labour. Let’s put things into perspective so that our members can understand this beauty pageant tendencies. COSATU Unions don’t and didn’t join the PSA in the court application but the COSATU unions were cited as respondents despite all unions fighting for the same resolution. Why does the PSA claim that the unions joined them in their application? We were actually thrown under the bus by that action which was about ‘we were the first’ fashion parade. Labour lost the court case and this has denied workers their benefits. We are forced to respond to these assertions that they are leading and we are following. We are structured differently because we have structures to consult and not using executive boardrooms to take decisions. We don’t shout strike but executive impeccable strikes. In 2007 the same union only joined the public service strike for one day, just one day while our members were on strike more than a week and suffered huge deductions as part of leave without pay. In 2010 the same union that claims that other are following or joining them because they are the first we believe came out for a day to actually weaken our strike. In our view this ‘we are the first’ is nothing else but just media hawking and a recruitment stance than winning at the negotiations table. Have they as the ‘we are followed and joined because we are militant’ signed any agreement in the past twelve years? Have they gone on two weeks strike like we did in the last fifteen years? So why does the media parade them as the majority and ready to strike when history tells a different story? Why in our view this union that declares other unions as followers is detrimental to the workers? Because it is anti-union tradition to celebrate disunity. Labour must be preoccupied with unity in the face of austerity measures. In our view true unionism is about uniting the workers to face the merciless employers and not devour each and one another. In our view it is our collective responsibility as a United labour to advance the needs of our members and their communities and negotiate in the media and counting how many tv or radio stations we have addressed. In our view it will take the totality of our unions to win on behalf of our members and a single union. We wish to say to our members: remain vigilant and not be swayed by statement that have no substance. COSATU are independent just like the other unions that are so focused and working together with us to find solutions. When the time they declare a dispute is right we will consult with all unions as we always do and we not be doing that because the PSA said they are the first. Our decision will be based on the analysis of the concrete material conditions obtaining. To all our members please remain united because the COSATU unions are united and what is said to have been said by an economist that the PSA is ready to strike but COSATU unions are divided remains wishful thinking. If such an economist has evidence of such divisions within the COSATU unions he must submit that to the JMC leadership. COSATU unions have mass based structures to consult and then present their mandate to the JMC and these unions are autonomous and independent.
In our view it must be said that this is not the first time that PSA broke ranks with labour collective and pushed their narrow divisive tendencies just to grandstand and appear in public as better saints than the rest of other unions who are genuine in their commitment to collective bargaining. Their history of not working with other unions did not start here and they continuously fail to understand the collective unity of labour is the one that will deliver the revolution of workers.
We believe they have always delivered nothing to members as they have never been signatories to any collective agreement on salary negotiations which over the years have benefitted all workers in the public sector. We believe that it is in their nature to break ranks and their tactic is not more about winning the negotiations but about recruitment.
It’s our view as we opined that the imprudent tendencies of ‘wanting to be first’, threw the rest of labour under the bus when they refused to follow the set dispute resolution in dealing with Resolution 1 of 2018. We believe that when they made the entire labour to be respondents in the court papers they felt like victors when in actual fact they exposed their discourteous capitalist nature.
We want to dispel the myth and the ill-informed narrative by even the media to refer to them a biggest while they are not the biggest in the public service. All they do with their divisive tendency will deliver nothing but can only strengthen the employer position to derail us from defending our demands.
We want to reassure our members that we are still in facilitation and will exhaust all internal processes in the rules of engagement at the PSCBC. It is our view that at the right time, we will implore our collective power for a massive strike that corporatist unions like PSA cannot pull. We are determined and focused on engaging the employer and give credence to the ten-days facilitation process we agreed upon. However, we are aware that our members are slowly losing patience and we caution the employer to expedite the response to avoid the mother of all strikes in the public service.
For information and comment, contact:
Mugwena Maluleke, JMC Convener: 082 783 2968