News clipping – Sunday Tribune – 10 October 2010

Sadtu no to wage offer

Teachers’ union Sadtu has resolved not to sign the government’s wage offer to civil servants, despite warnings this week from alliance leaders that its hard-nosed stance was straining relations.

The decision was taken at the union’s four-day congress in Boksburg this week, an event marred by delegates’ booing of ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga as well as fierce attacks on President Jacob Zuma’s government for being “uncaring and elitist”.

This was an indication that the ANC’s national general council in Durban last month did little but paper over the cracks within the tripartite alliance.

Sadtu leaders said yesterday the 1600 delegates had resolved against signing the government’s 7.5 percent final wage offer despite indications that the majority of public service unions were prepared to sign by Tuesday’s deadline. If more than 50 percent of public sector union members accept the offer, it will be implemented and further strikes averted.

Many unionized teachers left classrooms unattended for three weeks during last month’s strike in support of demands for an 8.6 percent salary increase and a R1000 housing allowance. The government’s final offer of 7.5 percent includes an R800 a month housing allowance. The strike was suspended for members to consider the offer.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi this week urged the labour federation’s affiliate to commit to signing wage agreements instead of withholding in an effort to appear radical. Its members in the end still benefited from the wage agreements signed by other public sector union leaders, but it strained future relations with the state, he said to jeers from delegates.

Sadtu president Thobile Ntola, who retained his position after elections this week, as did most of Sadtu’s top leadership, lashed out at the ANC government as “elitists” who did not feel the strike because they could afford private security, hospitals and schooling. Ntola said unions should “take over” the ANC in 2012, when the party holds its national elective conference.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe was shouted down by delegates the following day, barely five minutes into his speech, after he told them that many teachers’ own children had not been affected by the strike.
  “It is a truth that you may not acknowledge openly in a Sadtu national conference, but children of many teachers go to Model C schools and when they go on strike, their children continue to learn,” Mantashe said before he was booed by about half the delegates and prevented from speaking for about 15 minutes.

He later reminded Sadtu, as he had done while addressing education, health and allied workers’ union Nehawu’s congress the week before, that they should not burn their bridges with the government during wage negotiations.

Sadtu’s Western Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and North West delegations all apologized. Limpopo, Mpumulanga and the Eastern Cape qualified theirs while KwaZulu-Natal’s representative said
“…the absence of open war does not necessarily mean the presence of inner peace.”

By Carien du Plessis