Public Servants Association members demand higher wages during a march in Johannesburg. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Public Servants Association members demand higher wages during a march in Johannesburg. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

It may vindicate the cynics, but there’s little to cheer about in the fact that the state has failed to hold the line on public sector wage increases.

This week, it emerged that the government has caved in, and has agreed to offer a wage increase of 1.5% and a monthly R1,000 cash allowance to civil servants. It might not sound like much — until you consider that it will cost taxpayers an extra R18bn. For the lowest-paid public servants, this increase will result in an 11.7% wage rise.

This is disturbing for a number of reasons. First, besides debt, the public sector wage bill is one of the fastest-growing line items in the government’s budget — but neither is to the benefit of the productive economy, where funding for infrastructure and growth is starved to placate the demand for higher salaries.

That it will go to SA’s 1.2-million full-time public servants — 684,313 of whom were on "leave" during the level 3 lockdown last year — is just as disturbing. Many of these officials are part of a municipal apparatus that has comprehensively failed the country, as the auditor-general’s report makes clear. South Africans, in other words, aren’t getting value for their salaries, yet we are paying more. It is an untenable equation that bodes ill for SA’s ability to unleash the growth needed to assist everyone — not just those in the state’s employ.

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