My column last week, comparing the pay and conditions of nurses and teachers to those of cabinet ministers, seems to have touched a raw nerve. And mainly among both national and local government employees that I failed to mention.
One of the first questions posed was: would you risk your life on a regular basis, often working unsociable hours, for as little as R8,000 a month? Or, after years of training and hard work, do the same dangerous job for an average of R15,000?
The question came in the wake of the news that two fire fighters, Dan Zwane and Michael Letsosa, had died battling a blaze in a smoke-filled basement in Johannesburg last Sunday. A union representative pointed out that, after one year of intensive training, physically fit men and women enter the service on a T6 pay scale, equal to roughly R8,000 a month. Although still regarded as being “in training”, they are expected to carry out the same duties as experienced men and women for whom the average pay — at T8 — is R15,000.
In drawn out negotiations at the local government bargaining council, fire fighters and other municipal employees have been offered a 5.4% pay rise and a three-year deal where increases would be based on the official inflation rate (CPI) plus 0.25% for the second and third years. This has been rejected by the unions that have tabled a demand for an 11% increase or R2 000, whichever is the greater.
The parties will meet again from Tuesday of next week in a third round of talks to try to resolve the deadlock. In the meantime, national government employees, including paramedics, have settled on an effective 7% pay increase in a three year deal that will be linked to CPI plus 1% in the second and third years. If — as expected — CPI for this year exceeds 4.8%, the difference will be added to 2016 pay packets.
This agreement is unlikely to placate a number of lower paid workers, among them paramedics. They complain not only about low wages, but also about a lack of equipment and vehicles. Reports reaching the unions are that in some areas only a third of the required ambulances are available.
A common complaint is also shortage of staff, with the department of health having frozen a number of posts. One station manager reported that more of his staff were leaving the service because of the poor conditions and pay that was often barely R7,000 a month. The latest increase would add slightly less than R500 a month.
Fire fighters had similar complaints about staff shortages and, in some areas, a lack of adequate equipments and appliances. Johannesburg appears to have too few fire engines and their are several complaints about equipment in Cape Town, fire fighter representatives reported that there were sufficient appliances and equipment, but an almost dire lack of staff.
“One of the problems is that many of the older fire fighters are nearing retirement and others are leaving the service,” a fire services negotiator with the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) said. As a result, it was necessary for members in areas such as the Western Cape, regularly to work 48 hours of overtime every month.
Nurses are in a similar position with the Democratic Nurses Organisation (Denosa) admitting that many of their members often work double shifts, both in order to earn more money, but also because of the shortage of staff. In both cases such overtime labour plays havoc with the health and family lives of the workers.
In the public sector and local government of negotiations, housing played — and continues to play — a major role with agreements for allowances for rents, bonds and savings. Such allowances are not available to most low paid workers in other sectors who usually live in backyards or informal settlements.
As the labour movement readily concedes, this is a major problem, even larger than the current electricity crisis. Yet on both fronts there is work being done in the hope of improving matters. Professor David Dewar of the University of Cape Town and architect Paul Andrew, have produced a democratic, “bottom-up”, housing policy. And, on the energy front, Sustainable Energy Africa has produced detailed a report on energy in South African cities.
Both groups are keen that trade unionists and a wider audience should consider these documents. So I am prepared to forward — in pdf — either or both of them to you. Send your requests to: belnews [at] telkomsa.net.
The views in this article are not necessarily GroundUp’s.
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Source : GroundUp