Nehawu has vowed to vehemently reject wage freezes and accused Treasury of wasting the money in state coffers by bailing out SOEs.
Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu may be facing the first major battle in his new deployment to the national Cabinet as public sector unions intend to fight his plan to freeze civil servants’ wages.
A political expert has, however, said that if the process was implemented carefully and excluded low-income earners in government, the plan could take some pressure off the public purse.
Political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga added that for the government to be cutting frills and unnecessary expenditure indicated that it has sympathy with the majority of people who are struggling to get by in the present economic climate.
But the unions yesterday hinted at bringing the public service to a standstill by mobilising members and civil society against the plan.
Their action would include a united protest march to parliament when Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni tables the budget in February next year.
Having announced the salary cuts for Cabinet ministers and members of parliament, Mchunu is planning to extend the process to the entire civil service.
He recently tabled the revised Ministerial Handbook, an official document that deals with the benefits and perks of public office bearers.
He said: “We have taken the position of a freeze in our salaries and have also significantly reduced benefits to the executive in terms of personnel in executive offices, travel, accommodation and security benefits, among others.
“We will be engaging with the minister of finance, the relevant ministers of all entities, the relevant national and provincial legislatures and judiciary which all derive budgets from the fiscus to extend similar restrictions to their members and employees.”
Ministers deployed in the public service and administration portfolio are usually unpopular with unions as they are at the forefront of decisions aimed at cost-saving and Mchunu is no exception.
Mchunu, the former premier of KwaZulu-Natal, will be following in the footsteps of predecessors including Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, whom unions nicknamed Geraldine “Moeilikheid” (meaning difficult) because of her attitude to workers’ demands for wage increases and improved working conditions.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is battling to reduce public expenditure exacerbated by escalating national debt, bailouts to sinking state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and a high public wage bill.
Mboweni is under pressure to reduce the public service wage bill and among the steps he has taken was implementing salary cuts for politicians and bureaucrats, many of whom earned in excess of R3 million a year along with costly perks.
But the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) described Mchunu’s public statement on possible wage freezes as “ill-advised” and “nonsensical”.
The union vowed to vehemently reject it and accused Treasury of wasting the money in state coffers by bailing out SOEs.
“Workers cannot suffer because of the country’s stagnant economic performance and low tax receipt,” said general secretary Zola Saphetha.
The union also cited the auditor-general’s finding that irregular expenditure for the current year increased to R62.60 billion from R52 billion in the 2017-18 financial year, a R10 billion rise.
The South Africa Federation of Trade Union (Saftu) said it remained opposed to government downsizing, saying it was not based on any formula to ensure continued provision of services to people.
“The government is short of teachers, police officials, correctional services staff, hospital professionals, etc,” Zwelinzima Vavi, Saftu general secretary, pointed out.
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