Johannesburg - Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu has admitted that the public service had not ballooned over the years, despite complaints by the government over its growing wage bill.
Mchunu was addressing the first day of the two-day annual Black Business Council (BBC) summit in Midrand, Joburg, on Wednesday.
The government is currently at loggerheads with public sector unions over its plans to trim the public service wage bill, because it says its rate of increase was overwhelming the fiscus.
Mchunu said research dating back to last year indicated that the public service was not bloated in terms of permanently employed people serving in government departments in the provinces and nationally.
“You will note that about 75% to 80% of government employees are in the police, nursing and education, and where you go to any school, whether it is a village township, you will find that they tell you about shortages all the time. And if you go to any government hospital, they will tell you about the shortage of nurses,” Mchunu said.
Cosatu previously pointed out that public servants were not only understaffed and overworked, but were also underpaid.
Mchunu admitted that the government needed to employ more public servants to address the shortages, but that it was unhappy with the increasing cost of the wage bill.
“The public service is not bloated, but the wage bill is bloated. This is illustrated when we counted in 2006/07 in terms of how many public servants we had. We then counted and compared it with the number of public servants that we had in 2018/19,” he said.
He said the public service had about 1.1 million employees in 2006/07 and about 1.2million in 2018/19, while the wage bill had increased by more than 100%, from just above R200 billion to more than R500bn.
“This comes from a number of policies and agreements and a number of practices that formed the conditions of service in the public service.
“These are some of the things that we could and should have avoided, not necessarily by taking a confrontational stance against employees, but just by following trends elsewhere in the globe in terms of good practices that are sustainable and in accordance with what we can afford,” Mchunu said.
He said due to the strain on the economy and revenue, the government planned to trim the increase rate of the wage bill, and also to remove some benefits given to executives across all spheres of government.
A showdown is expected later this month between labour and the government after the government indicated it was unable to fulfil its commitment to increase salaries of public servants from April 1, as part of the 2018 agreement at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council.