The public service is expected to run into service delivery constraints in the next few years as a tenth of posts in national and provincial government departments are vacant and these departments are terminating employment at a faster rate than they are hiring.

Up to 134,919 of the public service’s 1,307,552 posts are vacant, according to the third quarter report on the public service by the Public Service Commission.

In the period from July to end-September, 74,118 (55%) of the vacancies were at an administrative operating level, while 58,567 are for posts "at the coalface of service delivery", according to the commission.

The public service also terminated 7,975 appointments compared with making 6,004 new appointments.

This comes amid the Treasury’s efforts to curb spending on the public service by freezing the posts. Observers have raised concern this could compromise delivery in key functions such as healthcare and education.

"This is alarming because employees at these levels have a direct interaction with the public at the coalface of service delivery. The service delivery implications [of] high vacancies at these levels is a matter of concern," said public service commissioner Mike Seloane.

He said that for the period July to September 2017, the number of terminations nationally and provincially was higher than the number of new appointments across the public service. "The reasons for service terminations include retirement, resignations, abscondment, contract expiry, death and dismissals. The higher level of service terminations can be attributed to budgetary constraints, given the current economic climate," he said.

The pressure for service delivery is at odds with the pressure to keep the public service wage bill contained. The Department of Public Service and Administration is expected to have a gruelling round of public wage negotiations.

Department of Public Service and Administration acting director-general Sam Vukela recently confirmed the dire situation to Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration.

Vukela gave the committee an update on public service wage negotiations and said resolutions concerning organised labour made at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council in 2009 should be reviewed to allow for the abolition of salary levels one to three, allowing level four to be the entry salary level.

According to labour’s submission, "Restrictions on accelerated grade progression were depriving those qualifying employees of what ought to be afforded to them."

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