President Jacob Zuma File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma’s administration is on a collision course with public sector unions after it emerged that he and his cabinet are in line for salary increases, despite the dire state of the economy.

The Star has seen the recommendations made by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, which proposes 4% salary increments, backdated to April, for state high earners.

The move - amid a fraught relationship between the ANC and its ally Cosatu - has also angered the Public Servants Association.

It also comes as the country faces economic hardship in the wake of a R50.8billion tax revenue shortfall recorded in this financial year.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has had to explain the bulging state wage bill that is weighing heavily on the public purse after delivering his recent medium-term budget statement to MPs.

There has also not been prudent management of taxpayers' money, after the Auditor-General reported R45bn irregular expenditure by government departments and state-owned enterprises on Wednesday.

Renowned academic Professor Raymond Parsons said the commission would not have arrived at these percentages if it had done consultations in the current period.

In terms of the recommendations, Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ministers, deputy ministers, MPs, judges, premiers, mayors and kings are earmarked for pay hikes.

The increase will see Zuma’s salary go up to just under R3m a year from nearly R2.9m. Ramaphosa’s salary is set to jump to R2.8m from R2.7m.

Each of the 35 ministers are poised to rake in R2.4m a year, and their deputies R2m.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise would earn R2.8m, progressing from R2.7m.

Members of Parliament are due for 4.5% increases, which would see their pay jumping to nearly R1.1m.

The DA’s Mmusi Maimane, as leader of the opposition, and ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu are set to earn R1.5m, and premiers R2.2m. Mayors' salaries are set to jump by R56000 to R1.3m.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng's salary will be R2.8m - up from R2.7m.

The salaries of the country’s 11 recognised kings are set to increase from R1.12m to R1.17m.

Members of the lower bar are poised for 6% increments, but magistrates may not have a lot to smile about as their annual paypackets will continue to hover just under R1m.

The annual wage bill of the public office-bearers covered by the remuneration commission currently stands at R12.2bn.

The commission proposed backdating all of these increases to April.

In its document detailing the recommendations, the commission stressed it had considered the strain the economy was under - hence it was proposing increases that were below inflation.

“Consideration was given to the consultations with the Finance Ministry and the dire straits faced by the economy in general, and the fiscus in particular,” said the commission’s report.

“The current economic difficulties cannot be ignored and the majority of citizens are adversely affected by the poor economic growth rates and inflation.

“It is believed that the remuneration levels of the highest-earning public office-bearers provide them with a greater portion of disposable income, which can act as a buffer against the effects of inflation,” the report said.

Zuma and all these high earners did not get salary increases last year, based on the commission’s recommendations. They had received a 5% increase in 2015.

Parsons, who is from North West University's School of Business and Governance and has perused the commission’s report, said it appeared its research “precedes the most recent deterioration in the economy, as frankly outlined by Gigaba in his mini-budget speech”.

The commission held consultations with Gigaba in April and August.

“One wonders whether the commission would have arrived at different recommendations if it was preparing them now, instead of earlier,” Parsons remarked.

“Given these economic realities, although the commission’s proposal for the highest-paid public office-bearers is below inflation at a relatively modest 4%, it would send a powerful message symbolically if political appointees (therefore excluding judges) earning more than R1.5m agreed to settle for a smaller or no increment in 2017/18,” Parsons said.

The increases look set to embolden public sector unions currently locked in salary negotiations with the government.

The unions seek 12% increases for more than 2 million public servants. Currently on hold, the wage talks are expected to resume in January at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said they would go into the negotiations knowing there was money following the increases for public servants.

“If there’s 4% increases for people who earn millions of rand, it means there’s enough money for people who are at the forefront of service delivery,” Pamla said.

Ivan Fredericks, general manager of the Public Servants Association, echoed Pamla’s sentiments.

“If the president and his cabinet and parliamentarians can give themselves 4%, making sure that they have a good life, we’ll not withhold (anything) when it comes to our salary negotiations. They would have to submit very good reasons why our people should not resort to industrial action,” Fredericks said.

The Star