The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) – the biggest trade union in the public service sector – has noted, with deep disappointment, the Constitutional Court judgement dismissing the application by SADTU and other public service unions to force government to pay public servants’ 2020 salaries.

Public services unions appealed before the Constitutional Court the judgement and order of the Labour Appeal Court which declared invalid, unlawful, and unenforceable Clause 3:3 of Resolution 2018 which determined the public sector wage for 2020.

In its unanimous judgment dismissing the appeal, the Constitutional Court said that if Clause 3:3 was to be enforced, the amount available for service delivery in all manifestations would be significantly reduced. The state has laid emphasis on the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on its financial resource, including the need to protect the lives and livelihood of vulnerable people exposed to the severe consequences of the pandemic. “In the present economic and health circumstance facing the country, it would not be just and equitable to require the State to make good the illicit salary it promised at the expense of far more pressing need affecting the country,” read the judgement.

We are fully aware of the present economic conditions and the impact of Covid-19 however, this should not be the basis for undermining collective agreements. Public servants are equally susceptible to adverse economic conditions as they carry the burden of looking after family members retrenched in the private sector. We cannot allow economic circumstances to blackmail us and cause the principle of collective bargaining to be thrown out the window

After following to the letter, the legal routes at our disposal, the ruling by the apex court has left a bitter taste and further eroded the trust in the employer. SADTU believes the collective agreement was lawfully concluded. Once the Cabinet had approved the offer to labour, all Ministers are bound by the approval including the Minister of Public Services and Administration and Minister of Finance. The onus rested on the employer to ensure that all the relevant facets of the law are complied with to make the collective agreement valid and lawful.

This judgement is a sad and dangerous precedence; one cannot but imagine what the heartless private employers will do to emulate this example. It will further demoralise public servant and is a big hurdle on our way towards building a developmental state. Undermining and destruction of collective bargaining – a key pillar democracy and peace – is inevitably going to promote anarchy, vigilantism, and populism. This is an open attack on union akin to union bashing.

We promise the government – our employer that we will return this favour by engaging in a war to fight for our rights and benefits.

Public servants remain excluded from basic benefits such as shelter (RDP houses) and do not receive NFSAS to educate their children. There cannot be peace at a time of struggling to make ends meet.

Workers are indeed on their own; they must rely on their unity and labour power to defend themselves while advancing their noble cause against exploitation by heartless employers. As the union is about to embark on a mandate seeking process for the 2022 round of negotiations, we are going to do our best to ensure that collective bargaining – which people lost life and limb for it to be recognised to build labour peace – is respected.

We believe that the stance by our democratically elected government is but another attempt to introduce austerity measures on public spending that is critical for a developmental state through the back door. We are convinced that our government adopted this neo-liberal stance without any popular mandate but with a view to appease the Brenton Woods Institutions (IMF and World Bank) and ratings agencies.

Unfortunately, the public servants that have been at the forefront in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic are now at the receiving end of this stance by their own government.

The employer may have won the battle but not the war. We will fight hard to ensure our gains are not reversed. We say no to exploitation of public servants, we cannot be the new professional SLAVES.



General Secretary, Mugwena Maluleke: 082 783 2968

Deputy General Secretary, Nkosana Dolopi: 082 709 5651

Media Officer, Nomusa Cembi: 082 719 5157