By Thapelo Matlala
The National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) strike is set to move into its second week unless the government agrees to pay public sector workers a 10% pay increase and a R2500 housing allowance.
The indefinite national strike began on 6 March despite a 5 March Labour Court interdict prohibiting the strike. Nehawu has appealed the interdict and vowed to continue the strike until the courts rule on its appeal.
Striking workers have shut down many public hospitals and clinics across South Africa this week after rejecting the government’s 4.7% increase. Public sector workers are aggrieved that government has refused to provide an above-inflation increase, given that many were frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, with 1300 healthcare workers alone dying during the first 18 months.
In an interview with Grocott’s Mail, Ntombomzi Gidana, Nehawu’s Makhanda education branch secretary, said members were still unhappy that the government had frozen the wage increases for public sector workers in 2020, claiming a lack of funds.
Gidana also reiterated Nehawu’s opposition to the three percent increase that government had unilaterally imposed on the unions in late 2022. “The union had never agreed to accept such a low percentage,” she said.
“We are begging the government to give us a salary increase. We are here again saying to the government that we are fed up, we are tired, because there are price increases on everything every year, but the salaries are still the same,” said Gidana.
She added that nothing less than a two digit increase would do.
Striking workers were reluctant to provide their names because the strike is unprotected. A pharmacist’s assistant from the Settlers Day Clinic said the government was unfair to the workers, and it was about time they went on strike to meet their demands.
A clinic security guard said he had joined the strike because he was performing two services – guarding and cleaning – at the same time. He asked how he was supposed to work two jobs simultaneously and said the department of health had failed to hire another worker he could rotate with.
Ten public sector unions are involved in the current public sector dispute with government – PSA, Nehawu, Popcru, SAPU, Denosa, Nupsaw, Samatu, Pawusa, Saepu and Hospersa, but only Nehawu is currently on strike.
At the time of publishing, Nehawu was about to re-enter negotiations with the government. This story will be updated with any new developments.