Tough demands from public service unions as talks start
Public service unions entered 2017’s wage negotiations with tough demands.
Among these are the abolishment of the bottom three salary levels in the public service as well as the lifting of the moratorium on the filling of vacancies.
In his medium-term budget policy statement in October, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba raised concern at the ballooning public service wage bill swallowing up much of the budgets of provincial government departments. This forced them to take on debt just to deliver services.
The challenge was partly being addressed through a freeze on the filling of vacancies in the public service, acting director-general at the Department of Public Service and Administration Sam Vukela told Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration on Wednesday.
Unions complained that the freeze affected service delivery.
Labour’s submission to the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council said that restrictions on "accelerated grade progression were depriving those qualifying employees [of] what ought to be afforded to them. It called for only 30% of the employees per year to be awarded grade progression in this regard."
We are glad that nobody has an appetite for bargaining outside these structures. But we need an assurance within the interministerial committee that there will be no disruption to public serviceRegina Lesoma
Committee member for the ANC
Unions want the salaries of employees from levels four to seven to be raised 12%, employees from levels eight to 10 by 11% and those on levels 11 and 12 by 10%.
"The effect of junk status on the general wealth and disposable income of public servants needs to be corrected. Medical-aid increases during the previous multiterm agreement utilised money that should have gone towards living-cost adjustments," the unions’ submission read.
Vukela told the committee that all the labour demands made during the negotiations would cost the department about R483bn.
He said that the department would, however, "demand the upholding of the principles of resolutions of 2017".
Committee member for the ANC Regina Lesoma urged the department to continue engaging with the unions but not to allow any disagreements to compromise service delivery.
"We are glad that nobody has an appetite for bargaining outside these structures. But we need an assurance within the interministerial committee that there will be no disruption to public service.
"We must take on board the outstanding agreements on how to move forward," Lesoma said.
Committee member for the DA Dèsirèè van der Walt said that the department faced a stark challenge, but it made sense to leave vacant positions that have not been filled for as long as four years, since the public service was functional without them.