We all, at least, for the most part, are hyper-conscious of the delusional realm in which Government operates at times. This ends in commitments not being honoured or issues being incorrectly handled— resulting in once simple processes throughout State Departments, transforming into topics of legal discussion with the potential for mass backlash.
This carelessness in procedure is exemplified in recent events surrounding pay increases for State Department employees. In February of this year, the Government insisted public servants face a pay freeze and not receive their annual salary increases. This was, according to Government, to help restore the public finances amidst the current financial challenges. As imagined, this decision did not go down well with unions nor the plethora of Government employees who were to benefit from said pay increases, seeing the affected parties deciding to take legal action.
However, a mere day prior to the court case between Government and the public sector union at the Labour Appeal Court on 2 December 2020, the Government had a sudden change in approach, but more on that shortly.
For those of our readers who are not aware, the trade unions represent 1.2 million South African public servants including; teachers, nursing staff, police officers and correctional services members but to name few.
According to attorneys from the Public Servants Association (PSA), the Government was misleading regarding the cost estimates for this year’s unmet wage increases.
The Department of Public Service and Administration and Treasury claims they cannot afford the hikes. These being the very same increases which were agreed upon back in 2018—stating it will cost over R30 billion, money the Government simply does not currently possess. Adversely, The PSA submitted the necessary wage increases, which, according to the union, are set at just over 5%, and will most likely cost the State R10 billion and not R30 Billion.
While the association’s attorney, Chriss Orr claims it is concerning the State is repeatedly relying on a figure which is incorrect for its arguments—the State maintains it cannot afford the relevant increase. Moreover, the State enthuses the initial agreement was reached without the necessary Regulation 79 approvals. This includes Cabinet being required to give the green light. A tangible argument which would sit firm on any boardroom table, except for the very real fact, the State has already complied with the agreement for the past two years.
As previously mentioned, a day prior to the court case, the Government appeared to have changed its approach on the matter—which followed a formal letter calling for a postponement of the court case, requesting the matter be moved to 2 February 2021. The reason for this is multifaced, as it involved the Government reaching out to the unions in an attempt to resolve the matter outside of court, as well as, the State exploring alternative settlement options with all the unions.
But, as the State stresses, time is required for Government to work out, calculate and then convey to the unions, the precise details of what the settlement means for the different salary levels in the bargaining unit.
In response to the Government pushing for the court case to be postponed, the PSA added they also received a meeting request from the Minister of Public Service and Administration, to address the situation. During the meeting, the association was given an alternative which left its members unsettled.
Offering insight, PSA elaborates, the Minister proposed a settlement which entails a pension-based approach. This involves the employer’s contribution to the employees’ pension, amounting to R27 billion—being used in order to provide the public servants with a type of once-off bonus.
This was calculated on the actual CPI of 3% as determined in September 2020 which converts to the lowest-level employee receiving R4 000 and the highest-level employee receiving up to R52 000, all of which are taxable amounts. This proposal was promptly denied, with the PSA reminding the Minister that this was related to the employee using his or her own pension fund to pay themselves.
Charles Ngubane, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Manager, has voiced his dismay in the recent events. Mostly, as he claims, the Government not only agreed to the initial agreement back in 2018, but it was they who proposed the deal, which the unions then agreed to. “They now claim the economy will collapse if they pay out the necessary wage-increase,” states Ngubane. But as frail as the economy is, Ngubane reminds the community that while the Government pleads poverty, it raised a staggering R500-billion for the COVID-19 fund in record time.
At the end of the day, he emphasises, corruption in the upper echelons of Government has such dire effect and impact on the country, it is now affecting the State’s staff, people who run and maintain the infrastructure of the country.
With the case now being postponed, what will happen if the State does not come to the party and implement the necessary pay increases?
Ngubane affirms, “We will address the matter with our lawyers and take the matter higher. If that does not work, we will embark on a nationwide strike, where we will down tools. These are our two options.”
With public servants playing a vital role in society, what will happen to South Africa if traffic officers, police officers, prison wardens, firefighters and the public health sector refuses to work?
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Authors: Quinton Boucher and Calvin Swemmer
Edited: Calvin Swemmer