We are not sure if the strike might be nearing the end, but yes we have been talking with the Department on the sidelines. Unlike before where the Department was not coming to the party, which is what resulted in the negotiations at the Bargaining Council collapsing, and having a dispute. We know that today we have been meeting up until 5 o’ clock this afternoon, we will be meeting again tomorrow at 3 o’ clock. But between now and 3 o clock we are consulting with our members, we are taking to taking to our members, particularly the picket lines, that which the employer has responded to us as a counter offer to each and everyone of our demands. So we are going to be taking mandate, but at the same time the Department itself is going back to their principal. Because what has been happening is that it was a team of negotiators between our union and the Department, so they are also going back to their principal to take mandate on some of our non-negotiables that are there on the table. So we will not say the strike is nearing an end, all that we are saying is that the Department has started talking.
It’s important for us to continue to educate our public, including the leaders of our government, including the MEC. First, it is a national strike, it has got nothing to do with the Gauteng Department of Social Development. It is a dispute that arose at the National Bargaining Council. Secondly, if the strike was illegal, or the Department was under essential services, they would haven’t been a strike in the first place. So probably she does not understand the law herself because if it is a Department designated to be an essential service, the process is that you do not go on strike, the strike would be illegal – the current strike is not illegal, it is protected. A protected strike cannot be broken down by police, it’s only an illegal strike that you can call the police to come and break it down. You break down a protected strike through negotiations, it is because of the collapse of negotiations that there is a strike in first place. Thirdly, even if the entirety of the Department of Social Development was under essential services, there would have been what we call a minimum service level agreement, which would have allowed a strike. Because remember, going on strike the workers’ constitutional right, so there can be no point where workers would be prevented from going on strike. There should and must go on strike, however, if the there is an essential services and there is an agreement in place of minimum service levels which determines a certain percentage must provide what we call a skeleton staff or minimum service. In this case it does not exist because it is not true that the Department is an essential service.
Remember that the strike started on the 13th of March. When we made the notice to the Department that we were going on strike, the Department made the call and we met on the 10th, we met the Minister in fact on the 10th. That discussion concluded that we are very far apart, in fact it collapsed, because the Minister and her team did not understand what we were talking about, despite the fact that we have been in negotiations for three years since 2014. So we met again on the 12th with a smaller team determined by the Department and ourselves – those negotiations have also collapsed. That is why you saw the strike intensifying to the point where it is now. However, we must report that we met today, and we began to see a willingness on the part of the Department to respond to each of our 11 demands that we have put on the table, and we think we are making progress. That is why we now saying we take what the employer is putting to us to our members. You know for the past three negotiations there was nothing we could tell our members, there was nothing we could tell the picket line, but now we are able to say that the Department is beginning to talk, what is it that you are saying as members, we will go back there and meet them and say this is where our members agree or this is where they disagree. But at least there is dialogue, which is positive.
Our members are looking for improved salaries. In fact, social workers are looking at entry level, from level 7 to level 10, the support staff we are looking at the entry level, to kill the levels 1,2 and 3 as an entry level for support staff in the public service, in general, but also in this case at the Department of Social Development. Thirdly, we looking at the introduction of the rural allowance for social service workers. Because at the moment the rural allowance is not applicable to social development workers while in other sectors like Health, Education and so on, these matters are being implemented. We are looking at the revision of a clause in resolution one of 2007 that gives rise to the OSD to all professions in the Department of Health and Social Development of which sectoral bargaining council in this case, the Sectoral Bargaining Council of Health and Social Development, was supposed to have concluded. It concluded and it excluded social service professions. We are also looking at danger allowance, because as you hear like now there is a baby who died everywhere else, these people are working in danger areas. But other counterparts in the sector are getting danger allowance, but social workers and support staff are not getting it. So that’s what as a minimum we are looking for. We are looking for those working in gender based violence centres, who are employed on contract to be absorbed and be employed by the Department on full-time basis – because this is a job that is permanent – one that you are not going to wish away. So we want these individuals to be appointed permanently. And then a number of other issues, including the issue of PMD, as you have seen now in Limpopo, that across – that’s a matter that we are looking at.
We want to reiterate our condolences to the family of the deceased, and say that look the reason why when there is supposed to be a strike that arises as a consequence of a collapse of negotiations in the Bargaining Council and you send a notice, is to allow the employer to make a contingency plan. We complied with the Labour Relations Act, so the fact that the employer did not make enough contingency plans in time, to allow the prevention of the loss of life, should not be our problem. So that is not fair. Second, I wonder whether the Department has said to the public how many people died before the strike. Because this thing of one baby who died just because of the strike, as if two, three, four days before that there was no life lost when there was no strike. It’s something that needs to be investigated, We think that the Department jumped the gun, they are saying to the public today they are still conducting post-mortem to determine the cause of death, but they are already blaming the union for the death. The are blaming the strike for the loss of life, something which is unfortunate. We think that what the MEC in the province is doing embarking on an emotional blackmail trying to get the public’s sympathy, blaming the strikers for the loss of the baby’s life, just to run away from the responsibility of the Department. After the fact that anybody that dies in care of the Department, you cannot say it is the fault of the workers, it is the responsibility of the institution, in this case the Department of Social Development. Taking care and preventing loss of life include taking care of the workers, that are supposed to be happy, and not have gone on strike in the first place had there been not a grievance that emanates from three years ago.
We have been patient for the past three years as I said. We marched on the 10th of February, we gave the Minister five days to respond, she didn’t respond, she only responded on the 10th of March – a month later, when we had already issued a notice to go on strike. So we think we are prepared to be on the streets as long as it takes, but our view is that the Department is the one with the ball in its court – that it must resolve the strike. We are willing to engage, that is why we are available, even now we are saying to the Department we can even talk over the weekend, 12 o’ clock if you want us. But our members have told us that they are not going anywhere they are not moving from those picket lines as long as the Department is not responding to our demands. So we going to be there for as long as it takes, so long as the Department is not coming to the table.
Once the negotiations collapse and you go on strike, you strike in order to get a middle ground. That’s why we are saying we made progress to armour if I must say, in terms of the numbers of things, there are just a few sticky points that we think are very key for us. That is why we are taking them to our members. But our view is that by 1 o clock tomorrow we should be beginning to draft what we call a draft resolution with the Department, that we are going to take back to the Bargaining Council for negotiations and signing. For now we think we are not very far for as long as the principals of the Department tonight as they are being met by their negotiators can agree to what we think is our bottomline.
National Health Education & Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) First Deputy President, Mike Shingange