I arrived in Johannesburg (without my luggage) yesterday, after a 13.5 hour flight from Washington.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) is one of our two sister unions in South Africa (the other being the South African Municipal Workers Union - SAMWU).
As their triennial congress gets set to begin, NEHAWU is in the midst of a month long public sector workers strike which is yet to be resolved.
The strike involves teachers, education support workers, police, corrections staff and health care workers.
The issue is money. At the commencement of the strike, the unions were asking for 12% over one year and the government was offering 6%. Four weeks later, the governments latest offer was 7.5%, which was rejected by the union’s late last week. Talks were to have continued yesterday with radio reports stating the union’s were at 9% and would consult with their members and table their latest position tomorrow.
This is the largest South African strike since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the largest central labour body in SA is serving as spokesperson for the striking unions.
As this massive job action goes on in addition to the NEHAWU congress, a major policy convention of the African National Congress (ANC), the governing party in SA is set to begin this week.
I am interested to see if the SA President, Thabo Mbeki shows up as he is scheduled to address NWHAWU delegates this morning.
COSATU and their affiliate union’s are closely tied to the ANC, and have been historically, the ANC has governed SA since 1994.
Delegates I spoke to last night remain strong ANC supporters but are very frustrated with the current ANC leadership.
There are no strike funds, as one NEHAWU staffer put it to me, “no work - no pay”, but she advised that members are very resolved to seeing this struggle through to a fair settlement.
She further advised that while there is no essential service agreements in health care, the union has voluntarily provided some services in acute care facilities.
NEHAWU members appear very united.
It should be an interesting week.