We’ve recently seen a resurgence of the argument that public servant pay is central to SA’s fiscal shortfall. But it’s too easy for government officials to blame their mistakes on public sector unions. If you blame union resistance for your own failures, few politicians, journalists or academics ask for evidence because it just reinforces their own preconceptions. Yet, the public pays a price if public servants become the whipping boy. The vast majority of public servants are teachers, nurses, policemen, corrections officers and soldiers. Cutting numbers and alienating them through public abuse and unrealistic negotiations leads to worse service. In any event, public service staffing levels in SA are on the low side for upper middle-income economies. Moreover, public and private workers have almost identical earnings if we control for age and qualifications. Education, health, police, corrections and defence constitute about 85% of total public service employment. SA’s public servic...

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