19 October 2020
The South African Democratic Teachers Union, the country's biggest education union and one of the public-sector organisations involved in a legal battle with the government over its refusal to honour a three-year multi-tier wage deal it had agreed to in 2018, says it is confident that the Labour Appeal Court will rule in favour of the workers.
Judge President of the Labour Court, Justice Basheer Waglay, ruled on Friday in favour of an application by the unions for the matter to be heard directly at the Labour Appeal Court to expedite its resolution.
SADTU General Secretary Mugwena Maluleke said the unions were confident that they would emerge victorious, accusing the government of "spewing out flimsy excuses for reneging on the agreement".
The unions have been locked in a four-month legal battle over the government's refusal to implement the third leg of the wage agreement it had signed in January 2018 after enforcing the terms of the deal during the first two years without argument.
In papers filed in the Labour Court, SADTU and the other unions argued that the government should not be permitted to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic in an opportunistic manner to avoid its legal obligations set out in an agreement it had freely and deliberately undertaken to respect.
If this were to be allowed, it would strike at the heart of the principles of collective bargaining and industrial peace protected by the Constitution and the Labour Relations Act.
Furthermore, the unions accused the government of a lack of good faith and failing to lead by example. They also rejected claims by the National Treasury that the public wage increases were unaffordable, saying the Cabinet was aware of the economic conditions when it concluded the agreement.
They also rejected the claim from the government that it was coerced into the agreement, saying it was "staggeringly shocking to suggest that cabinet made an unconstitutional offer because it was threatened by trade unions".
The Minister of Public Service and Administration, Senzo Mchunu, reiterated that the government did not have the necessary funds and described the increases as unlawful and against public policy.
The government has rejected the public-sector unions' claim that it was using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to refuse to grant the wage increases. Instead, it has blamed the unions for turning down cost-cutting proposals to make the increases affordable.
Following Judge Waglay's decision on Friday, the unions were informed that the matter will be heard in the Labour Appeal Court on 2 December.
In a letter to the unions, the Labour Court registrar writes: "Although the Judge President is of the view that this is not the sort of matter which should forgo a hearing by the Labour Court, he has decided, for a number of reasons, to have the matter ventilated in the Labour Appeal Court, as a court of first instance."
Maluleke said the government was refusing "point-blank to implement the increases, invoking constitutional issues where none exists. It has now dragged the process into a time-consuming legal process that is likely to yield no fruit".
"In the first two financial years, the government had no qualms with the agreement. But shockingly, in the third year, the government has described it as unlawful, unaffordable and against public policy," he said.
"The government is citing other priorities such as poverty and social grants for not complying with the collective agreement, as if such socio-economic problems had not existed beforehand. The government is plucking excuses out of the air and cluttering the process with breath-taking falsehoods", said Maluleke.
He accused government of introducing conditions and terms that were not part of the original negotiations. "It has demonstrated bad faith of the worst kind. To make matters worse, the government is trying to criminalise the legitimate collective agreement that it willingly signed. It seeks to exploit the adverse economic situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic. That is a blatant cynical attempt to hide behind this worldwide tragedy," said Maluleke.
Issued by: Sadtu Secretariat
Deputy General Secretary, Nkosana Dolopi: 082 709 5651
Media Officer, Nomusa Cembi: 082 719 5157
Secretariat Officer, Xolani Fakude: 071 355 1566