Public Servants Association of SA members. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Public Servants Association of SA members. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

Senior public servants are calling on the government to come clean on whether it will uphold or renege on a multiyear agreement that could see them getting wage increases on April 1.

The government has frozen the salaries of public servants, cabinet ministers and MPs as it battles to contain its huge wage bill. It spends more than R600bn on salaries, representing 35% of its annual spending.

“[The] government’s deathly silence is posing an increasing risk to give rise to actions that will have further dire consequences on the economy,” Public Servants Association of SA (PSA) assistant GM Reuben Maleka said. The PSA represents more than 230,000 public sector workers.

The government, labour and business met at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) on Monday where it was agreed that the wage bill issue should be referred to the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) for discussion. The PSA has now expressed uncertainty about whether the matter will be discussed at all as the implementation date for wage increases is a mere 28 days away.

The PSA said on Tuesday that there has been no attempt by the government to raise the matter in the PSCBC to explain where it intends to make up the saving of R37.8bn this year.

Labour has rejected finance minister Tito Mboweni’s plans to cut the wage bill by more than R160bn over the next three years, saying it would count as a declaration of war if implemented.

Mboweni has received support for the plans from the business sector and President Cyril Ramaphosa, who described the budget as a sobering assessment of SA’s dire economic predicament. The president said that unless the government acts now and cuts the wage bill, it faces even more difficult times.

The proposal, which was tabled at the PSCBC for the first time the day before the budget, took unions by surprise as only cursory political discussions had been held before.

Renegotiating the third year of the wage agreement is proposed to cut R37.8bn from the wage bill. This will mean wages would grow 1.5% in real terms in 2020 as opposed to the existing agreement, in which most workers would receive an increase of consumer price inflation (CPI) plus 1%, and notch increases of about 1%.

Maleka said the PSA will approach the PSCBC to obtain confirmation from the government on the percentage increase due to public servants based on the CPI figure as determined by the Treasury.

“[The] government indicated that it cannot afford to implement the last leg of the wage agreement that was signed in 2018 and has since not given any assurance that these increases will be implemented in line with the provisions of the agreement,” said Maleka.

“Already, public servants took a risk to enter into a three-year agreement to gain the security of a meagre increase, even if the economy changed. This after the same employer, during wage negotiations, rejected labour’s proposal for a single-term agreement.”

On Monday, Ramaphosa said SA was spending far more than it was earning, adding: “We need to make changes and we need to make them now.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za