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Major strikes planned for South Africa – including one that could cut off water supply

Labour unions have threatened to down tools and embark on mass industrial action as the impasse around government wage negotiations continues.

The Daily Maverick reports that government has remained steadfast in its decision to introduce a salary freeze for South Africa’s 1.3 million public servants during the 2021/22 financial year.

In response, unions have threatened industrial action that would see key public servants such as doctors and nurses embark on a strike.

“We will shut down public service until the government takes our demands seriously,” said Reuben Maleka, assistant general manager of the Public Servants Association (PSA), which represents state workers including teachers, attorneys, police officers and others.

“Public servants can no longer pay the price for the country’s economic woes fuelled by rampant fraud, corruption, and mismanagement,” said Maleka.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni’s budget published in February assume an effective nominal public sector wage freeze over the next three years.

The government’s fiscal strategy over the next three years will be to narrow the deficit and stabilise the debt-to-GDP ratio, Treasury said in its budget on Wednesday (24 February).

Since the 2020 Budget Review, the budget deficit has doubled, and the in-year revenue shortfall is estimated at R213.2 billion.

These changes reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as government’s response, which prioritised relief for households and businesses, alongside a major effort to protect public health.

The consolidated deficit in the current year – estimated at 14% of GDP – is the largest on record.

Water strike 

In a separate issue, Gauteng residents could be left without water as the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) embarks on an indefinite strike at Rand Water from this week.

Samwu said it is embarking on the strike because of a unilateral change of employment introduced by the water board.

“The decision that we have taken as SAMWU to go on strike is a painful one as we know that taps will definitely run dry in all areas that are serviced by Rand Water. However this is noble, justifiable and well within our rights.

“We as a trade union will not allow the employer to bully workers by unilaterally changing employees’ conditions of service without any consultation whatsoever. Our members and their interests come first.

“An ultimatum has already been given to the employer to immediately reverse this anti-worker practice and restore all terms and conditions of employment, including incentive bonuses.”

The union warned that Rand Water should consider this strike as a ‘dry run’ as it plans to table its latest wage demands in the coming months.


The Building Construction & Allied Workers Union (BCAWU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have both formally declared a dispute with the country’s civil engineering employers’ organisations in terms of the constitution of the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI).

The dispute follows a deadlock after two rounds of negotiations which took place in March and April.

During a number of tense, facilitated negotiation rounds, organised labour demanded a the-year deal as opposed to employers’ two-year deal.

Employers in the Civil Engineering industry are seeking a freeze on wage increases in year one in order to assist with economic recovery following the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thereafter, they have offered a CPI-linked increase in year two.

However, after a number of amendments, unions are demanding, among other items;

  • Increase of 10% for night shift allowances per year;
  • Housing allowance of R2,000;
  • An Annual Bonus of 26 days and pro-rata;
  • An across-the-board wage increase of 20%, year-on-year for 3 years; then 15%, year-on-year for 3 years.

Employers have been warned that, failing further negotiations, industry action is imminent and that organised labour would have to follow the proper procedures in terms of the Labour Relation Act before embarking on a strike.

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