A crucial test for the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa will be how it deals with the ballooning public sector wage bill that threatens to eat into the ability of departments to deliver services. Business Day reports that this is according to the Institute of Race Relations, which has released a report on SA’s bloated and costly public service. The head of the IRR’s politics and governance department, Gareth van Onselen, said the public-sector wage bill needed to be brought under control – but the last thing the governing ANC wanted was to wage a war with the trade unions. Wage negotiations between the government and public-sector trade unions were under way in the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council. Their outcome, he said, ‘will go some way towards revealing just how much influence the president wielded’. But, the Public Servants Association (PSA) GM Tahir Maepa disagreed with the view that the public service was bloated – he said there were more than 160 000 vacant positions in the public service. Federation of Unions of SA general secretary Dennis George also highlighted the shortage of employees, though he conceded the public service might be bloated at higher levels of management.
The PSA has called on workers to resort to ‘drastic measures’ to force the government to conclude 2018 wage negotiations. ‘The negotiations process which has been delayed numerous times before by the employer continued on 4 and 5 April in the form of facilitation instead of proper head-to-head negotiations preferred by the PSA,’ it is quoted in a Polity report as saying. ‘The parties made use of various options to try get closer to one another on labour’s demands, but unfortunately it did not yield the desired outcomes.’ The government has denied it was intentionally delaying wage negotiations. But the PSA, which represents some 238 000 public servants, accused the government of trying to force workers to take extreme measures, and said the stand-off would now be discussed in a labour principals meeting to determine the way forward.
In a statement on the government website, the Minister for the Public Service and Administration, Ayanda Dlodlo said: ‘We have noted with concern, media reports that government is unnecessarily delaying the public-sector wage negotiations process. In this regard, the minister would like to assure all public servants and the public in general that government has no intention to delay the public-sector negotiations process. On behalf of government and the Committee of Ministers, which includes: Ministers of Finance, Defence, Health, Basic Education, Justice and Correctional Services, Police and Social Development, I would like to restate our commitment to this process and assure all stakeholders that we will not rest until a best possible outcome is found between the negotiating parties.’ The Minister appealed for patience from all the public servants and the public at large, to afford the negotiating parties at the PSCBC sufficient time to reach an amicable negotiated settlement.