Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA.
Johannesburg - Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s position on the hefty public sector wage bill straining the fiscus has sparked debate about cutting government expenditure.

Some trade unions and civil society organisations have called for the reduction of the executive as one of the cost-cutting measures.

The SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) said while it supports the reduction of the Cabinet, any job cuts would be met with fierce opposition.

“We support the cutting down of the executive. However, we want anybody that may be negatively impacted upon to be retrained and redeployed.

“The public service is running short of 129 000 jobs as we speak, they can’t afford to lose one person. They must redeploy people into those vacancies,” said general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

In the same breath, Cosatu said reducing the Cabinet would not necessarily translate into job cuts as members could be redeployed to other departments or state entities.

“Reducing the size of the cabinet does not necessarily mean reducing the size of the workforce. It’s also not about cost-saving only; it’s also about improving efficiency,” said national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla, adding there are departments and state institutions that can be merged to ensure efficiency.

Mining and labour analyst Mamokgethi Molopyane also said downsizing the cabinet would not necessarily result in savings.

“I don’t expect unions to have a face-off with government should cabinet be downsized. The only time a face-off would happen is if government workers are retrenched shortly after a cabinet downsizing.”

A governance expert from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) said if changes are made, it would have to be in departments.

“Ministeries have relatively small staff numbers and it is in actual departments where most staff reside.

“So cutting the number of ministries would be a powerful metaphor but if the president is serious, it will be whole departments that get cut,” said IRR head of politics Gareth van Onselen.

“Depending on the departments, this could necessitate big or small job cuts. Some have small staff complements, while others have much bigger. To do this would require more than just cutting. It would require some fundamental restructuring of how the national administration works.

“The wage bill has grown mostly at provincial level. That, and at SOEs (state-owned enterprises), is where the real problem is.

“It is good for the president to set an example with regards to cabinet but the pain will come when government is forced to look at the wage bill and public service more generally. And the unions will resist that at every turn,” he said, adding a government study was under way to make proposals in this regard.

Sunday Independent