‘Reckless’ Ramaphosa aggravates unions as national shutdown looms

The Public Servants Association (PSA) wants president Cyril Ramaphosa to clarify his comments about setting up an independent body to determine the salaries of public servants in the country, saying his “reckless” statements are aggravating an already tense situation with unions.

Responding to questions in the National Assembly last week (3 November), the president said that work was underway in establishing an independent body chaired by a judge to review the salaries and benefits of public servants.

“We have a situation now where salaries of public representatives are determined by an independent body, and it occurred to me that for an issue such as this, one would need for it – once it is properly processed – to be properly examined by an independent body,” he said.

“Those of us who determine these benefits are essentially insiders; therefore, you need an independent body who can examine all these (things).”

Ramaphosa said that he is in the process of examing how best an independent process can be put in place – “a process that can lead to a measure of equity and fairness – not only to the people of our country but also to the incumbents.”

The president’s comments come as a result of two major crises related to public service remuneration to come to the fore in recent months.

The first is how ministers and members of the executive reaped luxurious perks and benefits from their office, including free water and electricity bills paid for by South African taxpayers.

This was recorded in the 2022 revision of the ministerial handbook, which sparked outrage among the population after it came to light that ministers would not be suffering along with citizens during the worst round of load shedding on record.

Ramaphosa quickly retracted the 2022 update of the handbook and reinstated the 2019 version – which capped minister utility perks at R5,000 – while promising that the entire document would be reviewed.

The second crisis in public sector remuneration is the looming national shutdown by workers in the public service.

In the medium-term budget presented at the end of October, finance minister Enoch Godongwana unilaterally pushed through a 3% wage hike for government workers – while unions have been demanding between 6.5% and 10%.

The PSA now says that Ramaphosa’s comments on independent bodies looking at public servants’ salaries are adding further strain to an already volatile situation.

“The trust deficit between government and unions is at an all-time low, and reckless statements such as these are aggravating the problem,” the union said.

“The government’s failure to pay public servants their salary increases in 2020 by reneging on a negotiated three-year salary agreement has severely dented the effectiveness of collective bargaining. More statements such as these will do nothing to restore fragile collective bargaining and rebuild trust in the process.”

The PSA said that public servants’ salaries and other conditions of service are already negotiated and determined by a legally established body in the form of the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC).

“Establishing an ‘independent body’, which is sure to come at great expense, will not only make a mockery of the country’s collective bargaining system but will render the PSCBC ineffective and obsolete.”

The union said that the severe trust deficit between the government and unions is one of the main contributing factors that led to the looming nationwide strike by unions. It said that the president needs to clarify his statements and urgently intervene in the ongoing wage dispute.

Unions representing over 800,000 public service workers have threatened to picket, protest, strike and ultimately lead a national shutdown if their wage demands are not met.

Strike certificates have been issued, with further announcements on planned action expected.

Read: National shutdown planned for South Africa as unions declare war on government

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