Public servants are feeling the pinch

Published Jul 8, 2024


Durban — Government workers are struggling to pay off millions of rand in personal debt, evidenced by the number of garnishee orders processed every month.

As the cost of living increases and people struggle to make ends meet, the state’s Personal and Salary Administration System (Persal) has to ensure that court orders are honoured and debts serviced by directing money from employees’ salaries to their creditors’ accounts.

The Department of Public Service and Administration’s (DPSA) Dudley Moloi said last month 13 757 garnishee and emolument orders were processed on behalf of public servants, amounting to R6.5 million.

“Furthermore, we have established a partnership with the National Treasury to assist employees with garnishee orders,” Moloi said, adding that several such measures had been implemented through employee health and wellness programmes.

“These programmes provide comprehensive support, including financial education, to help employees manage their finances better.

“Additionally, the DPSA has partnered with the National Credit Regulator to offer financial education across all government departments.

“This collaboration ensures that employees are equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to make informed financial decisions and avoid falling into debt,” Moloi said.

Public sector unions have warned that the debt trap could make workers vulnerable to financial misconduct and affect their productivity.

The Police and Civil Rights Union, the SA Democratic Teachers Union and the Public Servants Association (PSA) said their members were struggling to make ends meet despite a 4.7% salary increase earlier this year.

Many of them were absent from work at times because they didn’t have transport money, and loan sharks even visited them on the job to collect their fees.

The unions said desperate government workers had even sold their cars and homes to service their debts, while others resigned from their jobs just to access the money in their pension funds.

Moloi could not confirm this, but said that employees resigned for various reasons, sometimes for better opportunities in the private sector.

However, despite the high indebtedness of public servants, Moloi said not many of them were interested in the two-pot retirement system in which they could access some of their retirement funds.

“From the presentations that were done by the Government Employees Pension Fund, Treasury and the Government Pensions Administration Agency, questions asked and concerns raised highlighted that employees were not happy with the fact that they can only withdraw once per annum, and the tax implications aren’t helping, especially for those in high-income tax brackets,” Moloi said.

Earlier this week the PSA, appealed to the KwaZulu-Natal government to assist public servants who were “beset by unjust debt” resulting from departmental deductions.

PSA spokesperson Mlungisi Ndlovu said thousands of public servants in KZN were grappling with the devastating consequences of unpaid leave deductions, precipitating financial hardship and diminishing financial resources.

“Other such matters relate to forced repayment of damages for state-vehicle incidents, prolonged sick leave owing to incapacity, and over deductions stemming from pay-progression overpayments,” he said.

As a result these, government employees were financially destitute, which “severely” impeded their ability to cope with the escalating cost of living, Ndlovu said.

He called on the KZN premier and the Finance MEC to write off these debts, saying this would bring some relief and enable workers to perform their duties with “renewed vigour”.

Sunday Tribune