Government’s disrespect for its employees holds the danger of an ultimate shutdown of the public service
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The Public Servants Association (PSA), as one of the largest public-sector unions, is increasingly concerned about public-sector employees’ struggles for decent working conditions, occupational health and safety, and the right to fair compensation, as the principles of collective bargaining are trampled.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic and service-delivery challenges, often resulting in public servants bearing the brunt of public anger and frustration, it must not be forgotten that government’s continuous failure to deal with fraud, corruption, mismanagement, and wasteful expenditure has brought the economy to its knees. Government’s ongoing inability to recover such funds and ensure consequence management is compounding the crisis.
Workers are now expected to pay the high price in this dire situation as unemployment continues to soar and public servants are facing a second year in a row without salary increases. Conditions of employment, secured for public servants through constructive collective bargaining over years, are also facing the danger of erosion, with workers being used as scapegoats to conceal the real cost of the damage inflicted by irregular activities.
Government’s 0%-increase “offer” for public servants for the 2021/22-financial year is regarded as an insult to labour and underlines the fact that workers are facing a new struggle. The absurd offer entails using, among other things, shifting funds allocated for pay progression, resettlement costs, daily allowances and encashment of leave to fund a cost-of-living adjustment. Allowances and leave dispensations are also being targeted.
Government is clearly the author of its own demise and the PSA was appalled by the recent tactics of the Minister of Public Service and Administration to gain public sympathy for government’s quandary related to public servants’ overdue salary increases. The PSA regards the minister’s invitation to the public to submit proposals on breaking the deadlock in public service wage negotiations as another effort by government to undermine public service collective bargaining processes.
The invitation is both disingenuous and malicious. It was not the public who advised government to waste state funds in support of corrupt state-owned entities or to use public funds for frivolous litigation against public servants in unwarranted disciplinary action. It was also not the public who approved the irregular appointments of unqualified staff, which led to further wastages, maladministration and service-delivery collapses. Government should take accountability for its actions and stop involving the public when it needs a scapegoat to avoid answering for the dismal state of the economy.
Recently, the same minister squandered public funds by sending public servants to China to “learn” about governance while South Africa has expertise at universities and private institutions to assist with governance training. Government shockingly also enlisted Cuban engineers at great expense for solutions to the country’s water crisis, again without public consultation.
The first act of corruption in the public service and by this government was reported years ago.
Despite this, South Africans are soothed with costly commissions of inquiry and anti-corruption forums that were established without yielding tangible results or recovery of funds into the fiscus. The public will no longer be misled by fables while looting continues. Discontent across all levels of society is growing.
The ills facing the successful management of the public service are known, and it is troubling that government continues to show a lack of urgency in tackling issues that have a direct impact on workers and service delivery to citizens. This includes the continued use of the public service wage bill as an excuse for failing to achieve basic service delivery goals.
In addition, government, as employer, is failing to adhere to processes prescribed in the Constitution, with the potential to destroy collective bargaining and plunge the country into labour unrest. As custodian of democratic rights and upholding the law, government is reneging on these responsibilities, destroying sound labour relations and social justice in the workplace. Allowing government to default on negotiated agreements places labour peace at risk. The PSA, in understanding the importance of collective agreements, has approached the Constitutional Court regarding the non-implementation of 2020 Public Service wage increases. The matter will be heard on August 24.
Public servants kept the country afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic and are still committed to continue doing so, yet their employer lacks urgency to address their legitimate wage demands.
Government’s disrespect for its employees holds the danger of an ultimate shutdown of the public service and further delays in the Covid-19 vaccination process, which is already behind schedule in achieving large-scale immunity.
Solutions to the public service salary deadlock can only be found jointly with labour in the recognised forums, using an honest approach rather than employing deflecting strategies. The PSA has reiterated that it remains committed to finding a solution in this matter. The union is, however, also ready to mobilise its members in ultimate defence of collective bargaining.
* Reuben Maleka is the acting deputy manager for members’ affairs at the Public Servants Association.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.