SITA seeks de-escalation amid ‘full-blown’ strike

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 17 Oct 2023
The strike action will continue until SITA presents an acceptable offer, says the Public Servants Association.
The strike action will continue until SITA presents an acceptable offer, says the Public Servants Association.

The State Information Technology Agency (SITA) has activated its business continuity plans to minimise the strike action at the organisation.

This is according to SITA spokesperson Tlali Tlali, in an e-mail to ITWeb after the Public Servants Association (PSA) yesterday declared a “full-blown” strike at the agency.

SITA and the labour body are at loggerheads after failing to meet each other on salary negotiations for the 2022/23 financial year.

The PSA, which represents the majority of employees at SITA, said in a statement yesterday that it had, following a deadlock in salary negotiations, issued the agency with a notice to strike, with a national shutdown from Monday, 16 October.

The union says the PSA members at SITA commenced with lunchtime picketing on 9 October, and intend to intensify the strike action in view of the employer’s reluctance to respond to their demands.

“The employer continues to show no interest to resolve the impasse. Employees have been mobilised and are preparing to participate in a total shutdown,” says the trade union.

Service disruption

It threatens that services at departments such as home affairs, employment and labour, and the South African Social Security Agency will be affected by the shutdown.

The PSA adds it is concerned about SITA’s attitude towards collective bargaining and the progress in respect to concluding salary negotiations for the 2022/23-financial year.

“The PSA alerts [communications minister] Mondli Gungubele that employees are angry and will embark on a total shutdown until their demands are met. The PSA is conscious of the implications of the total shutdown, which could adversely affect network connectivity, operations in most government sectors and service delivery,” the labour body says.

“The PSA, thus, urges the minister to intervene and instruct the SITA board of directors to improve the salary offer to 7.5%. The PSA remains resolute that the strike action will continue until SITA presents an acceptable offer.”

Tlali tells ITWeb: “We confirm that the State Information Technology Agency was served with a notice of intention to embark on an industrial action (strike notice) by the Public Servants Association, effective from 9 October.”

He also confirmed the industrial action took place in the form of lunchtime picketing last week.

As a state-owned company, Tlali says, SITA is responsible for the provisioning of ICT services to government at national and provincial spheres in line with its founding legislation, the SITA Act.

“This makes SITA the backend office of government ICT and the agency is responsible for developing, operating and/or maintaining ICT services consumed by government departments,” he notes.

“The company renders essential ICT services to government that enable service delivery to the public. This means the provisioning of certain ICT services to government may be interrupted by employees on the grounds that they are embarking on an industrial action.”

SITA spokesperson Tlali Tlali.
SITA spokesperson Tlali Tlali.

According to Tlali, since the commencement of the industrial action by the PSA, SITA activated its contingency plans to mitigate the impact of the industrial action on service delivery to government.

He says the plans include reconstituting structures responsible for operational oversight and business continuity.

“To date, there has not been any service delivery failure occasioned by the industrial action. Our business continuity measures will remain in place, and SITA’s clients and stakeholders will be kept abreast with regular updates on the state of our operations.

“The SITA leadership will spare no effort in working towards resolving the impasse and finding a lasting solution on the disputed issues, noting that SITA appreciates the nature of the relationship we have had with the PSA, characterised by mutual respect and shared vision on delivery of services to government.”

He adds the focus of attention must be on averting further escalation of the situation to avoid possible impact on government and members of the public.

Final offer rebuffed

In an effort to break the deadlock, Tlali says, SITA later made a final improved offer of 4.5% salary increase across the board to all employee levels represented in the bargaining forum.

He points out the PSA rejected the improved offer tabled by the employer during the facilitation meeting.

“SITA invited PSA to yet another meeting on Wednesday, 10 October, and no breakthrough was reached.”

Other avenues are being explored and updates on these will be communicated once the outcomes are known, he notes.

“We met the union again [on Monday] and SITA presented yet another improved and final offer of 5% which was rejected. We believe the company has acted in good faith and sought to strike a balance between various competing interests that include employee welfare and livelihood on the one hand and commercial viability and sustainability of SITA on the other.”

Last week, another government entity − the Independent Authority of South Africa (ICASA) − resolved a seven-day strike.

The dispute between the telecoms regulator and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union stemmed from failing to reach an agreement over salary increases for the 2023/24 financial year.

The parties ultimately reached an agreement that included a cost-of-living adjustment of 5% for 2023/24 for ICASA employees in the bargaining unit. Furthermore, the employees received a once-off cash payment of R20 000.