Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

Cosatu has proposed that the government conduct an audit of the public service, to determine where shortages and surpluses exist as part of attempts to address the public sector wage bill.

The recommendation was made at the ANC’s January lekgotla and comes as the government is under pressure to slash the public sector wage bill.

The state spends about R600bn on salaries, representing 35% of its annual spending.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni’s budget, to be delivered on February 26, is likely to focus on reining in government spending and to outline plans to curb the public sector wage bill to stave off a looming fiscal crisis. Deputy finance minister David Masondo suggested in December that the National Treasury was mulling wage freezes for public sector employees, which angered Cosatu and its affiliates organising in the public sector. Unions have threatened to protest outside parliament when Mboweni delivers his budget and, if that failed, to “shut down government indefinitely and render the system ungovernable”.

Public sector unions and the government are on a collision course in 2020, with the next round of public sector wage negotiations set to take place in the second half of the year.

In a document presented by Cosatu to the recent ANC lekgotla, the labour federation recommends ways to address Eskom’s debt as well as structural reforms to help boost growth in a stagnant economy.

On public sector wages, Cosatu calls for an end to the “unwarranted attacks” on public sector workers and their “right to earn a living” — a tacit reference to government ministers such as Mboweni.

The finance minister said in his medium-term budget policy statement last year that slashing the public sector salary bill was crucial to stave off a downgrade by Moody’s — the only remaining agency which ranks government debt on investment grade.

At the time, Mboweni said for every R100 the government spent, R46 went to salaries, and that between 2006 and 2018, 29,000 millionaires were created in the public service.

Cosatu says that instead of retrenchments and wage freezes, the public service should be audited to determine where gaps and surpluses exist — these can then be addressed through reskilling and “redeploying” public sector workers according to where they are needed.

The labour federation recommends that excess defence force personnel be redeployed to the SA Revenue Service, customs and the police. It also calls for an investigation into “ghost posts”, particularly at provincial level, in state-owned entities (SOEs) and in municipalities. It wants SOEs to also fall under the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council to “reduce the wage gap” between public servants and SOE employees.

It further calls for the salary packages of those in executive and management posts to be drastically reduced.

The recommendations from the ANC lekgotla were discussed by the cabinet lekgotla this week and are set to be announced during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s third state of the nation address on February 13 and during Mboweni’s budget thereafter.

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