President Cyril Ramaphosa is headed for his first potentially bruising duel with the allies who supported him towards Nasrec as Cosatu threatened to pull out of the upcoming jobs summit, and potentially end the ruling alliance, if his government goes ahead with its alleged plan to retrench 30 000 civil servants.
The message to Ramaphosa is clear: hands off public sector workers’ jobs.
The public sector’s biggest union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), threatened to “fight fire with fire” against the retrenchments.
The outcry came as reports surfaced about a plan by Cabinet to retrench more than 30 000 civil servants in the next three years as a way to reduce the wage bill and to meet the Ramaphosa government’s budgetary austerity, and realise a lean administration.
According to a Mail & Guardian report, Treasury has set aside R4 billion for this financial year to kickstart the process of issuing severance packages to 30 000 staff in order to reduce the government’s salary bill by R20 billion.
“Nehawu is appalled by the mooted plan by government to lay off more than 30 000 public servants in the next three years as part of cost-cutting measures.
“As Nehawu, we will vehemently reject any job losses in the public service because of austerity measures meant to remedy the debt burden of the public service,” said Nehawu’s general secretary, Zola Saphetha.
“Workers will not continue to vote for a party that does not go out of its way to protect jobs and prioritise service delivery, hence it should not take our support for granted.”
Cosatu has entered the fray and even threatened to pull out of the jobs summit that Ramaphosa has planned later this year.
The federation, which had been part of organising a jobs summit, described the latest move as a “betrayal of the workers by the ANC government”.
“If these rumours of government retrenchments are true, then Cosatu will pull out of that job summit and will take the fight to the streets,” said Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.
But Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo denied government planned to implement mass retrenchments as reported.
Although she disputed the figures reported in the media, she did not say how many civil servants would be laid off.
“It is true that as part of a bigger plan to reorganise government, an employer-initiated severance package and early retirement without penalties, among other measures, are being considered.
“But government is yet to engage labour unions on the matter,” she said.
The restructuring instructed by Ramaphosa was meant to enhance service delivery and make the public administration more efficient. The process would not only affect government departments, but also specialised stateowned enterprises.
“Of course, the plans to reconfigure government could result in a reduced public administration and executive, and a clearly defined role of the national administration within national government, but this process will be undertaken meticulously and not in a dramatic, wholesale retrenchment of state employees,” said Dlodlo.
Saphetha said his union would not take the planned job cuts lying down.
“In this regard, we warn government not to take any impulsive decision which might badly affect workers and service delivery. Working with other Cosatu public sector unions, we will seek a meeting with government to raise these issues,” Saphetha said.
Pamla said the decision would be an abandonment by the ANC of its 2014 manifesto commitment to reduce outsourcing and to enhance the state’s capacity to directly provide goods and services.
The federation has organised a two-day special central executive committee meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.
A senior civil servant, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the ANC would lose votes if the government retrenched civil servants.
“The government must deal with corruption and not retrench people. Cyril is going to lose votes for the ANC. I don’t think this will be possible while we are going to elections. I don’t think he will implement this one. It could collapse the alliance, it would be very ugly.
“Public service would come to standstill,” he said.
The SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) described the plan as an “outrageous slaughter of jobs”.
The federation’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, said the decision has been taken in order to comply with the instructions of the ratings agencies, the IMF and the World Bank, “who hold a view that our public service is bloated”.
The presidency couldn’t be reached for comment.