Trade unions could put their political differences aside to fight a common enemy: Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, whom they call a lackey of capitalists after he vowed to reduce the public service wage bill through retrenchments.
Mboweni said the country’s bloated civil service contributes to the high bill and retrenchment of public servants will be implemented.
He warned that a future situation where R8 from every R10 spent by government goes to salaries in the public service should be avoided. Out of 48 000 jobs, 30 000 would have to be curtailed.
He announced this on the eve of his medium-term budget statement, which he is due to deliver in parliament tomorrow.
The budget was set to be delivered by his predecessor, Nhlanhla Nene, who resigned following his testimony to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture regarding his involvement with the Guptas.
Mboweni’s statement angered trade unions, with the South African Federation of Trade Union (Saftu) launching a scathing attack on him.
Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said his organisation would be lobbying for the trade union movement to “stand together” against Mboweni’s plans.
Saftu has had strained relations with the ANC-supporting Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) but Vavi said there would be common ground among them to defend workers.
Cosatu did not comment at the time of going to press.
Vavi said Mboweni was playing to the gallery of the capitalist class, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and ratings agencies.
“We are extremely worried; the man is too conservative. The combination of Mboweni and Ramaphosa spells disaster for the working class. Where does he get these figures from? There are no such figures. For sure he gets them from his prejudice against the workers and the poor,” Vavi said.
“He is lying. This is music to the ears of the IMF, the World Bank, the rating agencies and the big business. We are going to fight him.”
Vavi said Mboweni was changing the tone of the austerity measures South Africa had been experiencing in the past few years.
“Look at the level of expectation from the people towards the government. Mboweni is making the situation worse,” Vavi said.
He lambasted the job creation promised by Ramaphosa during the recent Jobs Summit as pie in the sky.
“There will be no jobs created. They will be filling vacant posts. What is on the table now are job losses.”
Economist and former Cosatu strategist Neil Coleman questioned the credibility of Mboweni’s figures on the public service wage bill.
Coleman tweeted yesterday “information available suggest it is currently around 33% and that this is down from 40% in 1996”.
But political economy analyst Zamikhaya Maseti said it could not be denied that the public service was bloated and something needed to be done.
However, the real fat that needed to be cut was at Cabinet level instead of the ordinary workers, Maseti said.
“Unions will always think about their members. The debate about the civil service’s high salary bill should start with the Cabinet and the next layer, which is the directors-general, the deputy directors-general, chief directors and special advisers who take home huge salaries.
“These people fall outside the public service bargaining council and their salaries and package are extremely high.”
He suggested that Cabinet and the bureaucracy should cut the “dead wood” that included near-retirement civil servants, who should be offered early retirement packages, while younger government employees could be retrained, reskilled and redeployed to where their skills were needed.
The analyst said many could be encouraged to use their packages to start businesses or become industrialists.
“The fat is at the top – there is no cleaner who travels to Cape Town at the taxpayers’ expense like those politicians and senior managers do.
“It is that fat at the top that must be cut. We need to shake the tree and let the rotten fruit fall,” Maseti said.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article misquoted Mboweni. We said that he had suggested that currently, R8 from every R10 spent by government goes to salaries in the public service.