President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg - By increasing the salaries of top-earning public officials by 4%, President Jacob Zuma has all but convinced unions not to back down from their 12% increment demand for workers.

Public service unions in negotiations with the government reacted angrily to Zuma’s decision, saying it only showed their demand could be met.

Given that the country's economy was struggling, the unions had previously urged Zuma not to increase the salaries of the top-earning politicians.

The Star reported earlier last month that the Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers had recommended 4% salary increments for high earners.

Read: Zuma approves pay hikes for public office bearers

These included Zuma, his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, ministers and their deputies, Members of Parliament, judges, premiers, mayors and kings.

Bongani Ngqulunga, Zuma’s spokesperson, announced Zuma’s decision on Wednesday. He said Zuma had decided “after considering, among others, the recommendations of the commission and the performance of the economy”.

Zuma’s salary now goes to just under R3million a year, up from nearly R2.9m. Ramaphosa’s net take jumps to R2.8m from R2.7m.

Each of the 35 ministers will rake in R2.4m a year, while the salaries of their deputies jump to R2m.

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

Salaries of the DA’s Mmusi Maimane, as leader of the majority opposition, and ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu are set to progress to R1.5m.

The increases will be backdated to April this year. Unions said all these developments indicated that the government could afford to increase, by 12%, the salaries of approximately 2.69m public servants.

“Now we're clear that there's money, we expect that the government will meet most of the demands of the workers,” said Sizwe Pamla, Cosatu’s spokesperson.

“If there was no money, you'd expect that people who are well-remunerated and with really exorbitant perks would not be approving this adjustment.”

Cosatu said that given the revelations by Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu that irregular expenditure in the public sector had increased R45.6bn from R29.4bn, the increments were scandalous.

Furthermore, the state of the economy had left many in dire straits, Cosatu said. “We feel that the fat cats are rewarding themselves some more.

“They don't understand what it takes to survive on a social grant of R1 200.

“If they did, they'd be in solidarity with those people that they lead,” Pamla told The Star.

The Cosatu-aligned National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union said it hoped the government would apply the same “positive energy and generosity” Zuma had in hiking politicians’ pay.

“We also hope that we shall not be referred to a bloated public service wage bill, because our understanding is that this same generosity comes from the same wage bill,” said Nehawu's secretary-general, Zola Saphetha.

The Public Servants Association, another union involved in the negotiations, described Zuma’s decision as shocking.

“It gives us more muscle not to back off on our demand. We’re going there to ask for the 12%,” said Ivan Fredericks, the union’s general manager.

“We’re fully aware of frustration in the country.

“We’re not irresponsible, but our members see what’s happening in the country.

“They see who gets the money.”

The Star