Despite a hard-won public service wage deal being reached in late July, public service unions and government departments will on Tuesday return to the Constitutional Court where labour representatives are appealing a Labour Court ruling excusing government from sticking to a wage deal that dates back to 2018.
Unions have argued that government had an obligation to honour the agreement, regardless of circumstance, but he Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and National Treasury say that government's fiscal constraints made honouring the agreement untenable.
The DPSA has meanwhile slammed the National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) over a series of pickets planned for Tuesday at National Treasury, the Johannesburg office of the Gauteng premier, and the DPSA's office in Pretoria.
Nehawu is planning similar protests in several provinces this week to demand a higher wage increase for public servants. While the public service wage offer got the majority support required to be recognised to pass as a deal, some unions rejected it - Nehawu among them.
The latest public service wage deal was reached late last month and signed by the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu), the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa), the Public Servants' Association of South Africa (PSA) and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa).
The deal includes an offer of a 1.5% pensionable salary increase with a monthly lump sum gratuity ranging from R1 200 to R1 600 on a sliding scale from 1 April to 31 March next year.
The DPSA did not take kindly to Nehawu's intention to protest. Public Service and Administration director-general Yolisa Makhasi said while section 17 of the Constitution recognises the right to picket, this should comply with section 69 of the Labour Relations Act on pickets in support of a protected strike.
"The picket may only be held in a public place outside the premises of the employer or with the permission of the employer, inside its premises. The intended pickets by Nehawu do not comply with the elements outlined above and are therefore unprotected under the Labour Relations Act.
"A gathering for other purposes must comply with all other relevant laws, including the municipal bylaws and the prescripts issued in terms of the applicable Covid-19 regulations and protocols," said Makhasi.
Makhasi said no demonstrations were allowed on the premises of government departments and that pickets must not interfere with the operations of the departments or be held during working hours. No-work-no-pay would also apply, Makhasi said.
"The no-work-no-pay principle is to be applied accordingly. Departments are requested to report any instances impacting negatively on service delivery as a result of employees participating in this unprotected picket to the DPSA," Makhasi said.
Regarding the matter before the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, South African Democratic Teachers' Union secretary-general Mugwena Maluleke told Fin24 that the union was prepared to put up a fight for the deeper issues underpinning its appeal, which included the principle of collective bargaining.
"We believe it's important for the Constitutional Court to pay attention to the [right to] freedom of association which encompasses the right to bargain collectively," said Maluleke. Maluleke also noted that it took government a long time to raise concerns over noncompliance with certain clauses in the concluded collective agreement.
Nehawu secretary-general Zola Saphetha shared a letter from Makhasi in which the director-general told him that planned demonstrations needed to comply with the Labour Relations Act as well as Covid-19 safety protocols.