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Economists warn that next week’s national strike by public sector unions could worsen the economy

Economists warn that next week’s national strike by public sector unions could worsen the economy

Durban – The planned nationwide strike by public sector unions who are at odds with the government over salary increments has been deemed unnecessary in some quarters.

On Friday, public sector unions announced that on Tuesday next week they would organise the strike to voice their displeasure at the government.

The government has unilaterally decided to give the unions a 3% increase while they want 10%.

Cosatu-affiliated unions said they would mobilise other workers to join them as this is a broad fight that touches all workers.

“We intend to campaign for the active participation of the broadest sections of workers and South Africans in the fight to defend public service workers and the public sector itself. This will include our participation in mass picketing, organising sympathy strikes and solidarity activities embracing the widest sections of workers. We are encouraged by the unity that workers have shown in defence of their rights. Cosatu calls on workers to unite and work together because ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. We also want to remind the government that it will pay a huge price if it sets itself in opposition to the working class,” Cosatu said in a statement.

Among the cities that would likely be brought to a standstill is Durban, which is home to the largest harbour on the African continent.

However, some economists have raised concern about the strike.

Independent economist Professor Bonke Dumisa said the action by the unions was not warranted.

Dumisa said the government has been honest to declare that its coffers are dry and that is commendable. He said that the country was recently downgraded to junk status as its debt-to-GDP ratio was high.

Again, he said the government spends 33% of its monthly budget to pay salaries for the 1.2 million civil servants who, by the way, were cushioned during Covid-19 when other workers were retrenched and had their salaries cut.

“The issue of rising costs of living is not just a South African issue, it’s a global phenomenon, it’s affecting workers in other parts of the world as well,” he said.

He said for the public servants to try gain sympathy from the same people who were unemployed during Covid-19 is pure selfishness.

“Sometimes as an analyst, you have to be honest. For public workers to look for sympathy from people who at the time were unemployed is selfish.They are thinking about themselves, not about the consequences of their actions in the near future.”

Dr Ntokozo Nzimande from the University of KwaZulu-Natal said the country’s economy is already in dire straights after taking several knocks like the recent Transnet strike and the disturbance in the movement of goods along the N3 corridor that connects the Durban harbour to key provinces like Gauteng.

As such, he felt any further disturbance could be a death knell to the economy and worsen the recent business confidence as businesses withhold critical decisions on investing during such times.

“In as much as the grievances of the public sector workers are understandable, since the offer is below inflation and they are struggling, there should be other means to address this than engaging in anything that will cripple the economy,” Nzimande said.

He said that the strike could hamper the movement of goods along the N3 corridor at a time when businesses are planning for the Black Friday period.

“Some of the goods meant for this may not be moved along the N3 to their destinations. Businesses who may have employed extra casual staff may step back as they always do when there is uncertainty,” Nzimande added.


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