Saftu says no to austerity measures as it will further suffocate social services and worsen infrastructure backlogs

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) is not happy with the proposal by National Treasury. File Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) is not happy with the proposal by National Treasury. File Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 6, 2023


The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) says it is against any new austerity measures, as they would further weaken social services and worsen the country’s infrastructure backlogs.

The labour federation said South Africa had the capacity to avoid any austerity measures as proposed by the National Treasury.

This was in response to a now widely circulated memo by the National Treasury to provinces and national government departments that receive their funding allocation directly from the national fiscus.

In the memo, the treasury said the country’s finances were strained, and as a result, departments should freeze hiring of new staff where a letter of offer had not been issued, and all mega infrastructure projects should be halted.

It added that the same measures would soon be applied to municipalities after a meeting with the South African Local Government Association (Salga).

Saftu is having none of it, saying the civil services needs to hire more teachers, nurses and police officers, as they are currently understaffed.

“Temporary freezing of vacant posts goes hand-in-hand with attrition/retrenchments i.e., the permanent closure of posts.

“Together, they are part of the fiscal austerity measures aimed at reducing the headcount in the public service.

“Reduction of public service headcount has produced Educator-to-learner ratio of 1:31 in basic education.

"Police-to-population ratio of 1:413; Nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:224; Doctor-to-patient ratio of 1:3,198 and a Social worker-to-patient ration of 1:5,000,” it said.

The labour federation said such a dire situation of public servants compared to the population they service does not warrant any freezes, let alone reductions which are often carried as part of the fiscal consolidation National Treasury is so committed to.

“The more than 80% of the population that depends on social services deserves quality services.

“And such low levels of employment, including vacancy freezes, combined with mismanagement and maladministration, have increasingly denied the overwhelming majority such quality services,” it added.

Furthermore, the labour federation said the backlog in public infrastructure does not warrant any austerity measures.

“There is infrastructure backlog across the public sector. Institutions of government such as schools, hospitals and clinics, have infrastructure shortages.

"To freeze procurement on infrastructure is going to adversely affect attempts to address this backlog,“ it said.

Saftu added that the severe lack of infrastructure as a result of austerity and corruption has caused overcrowding in school classrooms, lack of ablution facilities in some schools, no libraries in more than 15,000 schools, including shortages of maths and science laboratories in more than 17,000 schools.

“In hospitals, the acute effects of the lack of infrastructure have been witnessed in midwifery wards that are filled to over-capacity, with heavily pregnant women sleeping in the corridors,” it said.

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