Magistrates are in an uproar, and their morale “very low”, in their struggle to secure salaries, and regular increases, that put them on a par with judges.
The only reason they have not yet embarked on strike action, is that their Oath of Office demands their dedication to serving the public, and to always act in the best interests of justice.
The public would be the first to suffer from any strike action, they say.
According to a document in ANA’s possession, magistrates should have received an adjustment in their remuneration in April last year, but are still waiting for it – almost a year later.
In fact, the current year is the eleventh year that they have waited, in vain, for a meaningful salary adjustment.
According to the document, their annual salary adjustments have been less than the inflation index.
The document laments that government still regards magistrates as government officials, despite the fact that they are, like High Court judges, independent members of the judiciary.
As the jurisdiction of magistrates increased over the years, magistrates have been saddled with 95 percent of the country’s judicial work, the document says.
A senior judicial officer, who did not want to be named, said government officials had unions to negotiate salary adjustments with the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA).
The unions also negotiated allowances, such as medical aid, housing, subsistence, transport, etc, for the entire public service, he said.
He added: “They do this via the Central Bargaining Chamber, where the DPSA and unions have representatives. There, they agree to a percentage salary increases for all, including magistrates – but without the magistrates, who do not belong to unions, being allowed to make any input.
This also happens with their pension fund, where legislation and rules are frequently changed without any prior discussion with the magistracy, he said.
“Magistrates are not even allowed to attend the negotiations.”
He said the position of magistrates had weakened drastically since 1994, compared with government officials.
“Prior to 1994, magistrates were public servants but, since becoming independent, like judges, magistrates are much worse off financially, and have no one looking after their interests.”
He said magistrates were in an uproar, and their morale very low, but they took their Oath of Office seriously, to serve the public to the best of their ability, and this prevented them, morally, from embarking on strike action.
He said the current year was the 11th consecutive year that magistrates received their salary adjustment between eight and 12 months late.
The adjustment for the year 2014, which was due in April of that year, was only effected during March/April last year.
As a result, the remuneration of magistrates had dropped consistently in real terms, over the last 11 years – especially when measured against the annual inflation rate.
To make matters worse, he said, the back-pay that was due to magistrates for the year 2014, was taxed at the increased tax rate, with effect from March last year.
It will impact severely on magistrates if there is another increase in the tax rate in March this year, he said.
He said magistrates worked under enormous pressure, and were seriously frustrated by the late adjustments of their annual remuneration, which impacted negatively on their morale.