COSATU warns government against provoking public service employees at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has noted with deep concern the government’s failure to take the public service wage negotiations seriously. There is an inadequate offer on the table that has been presented by government and we expect government to increase that offer. The failure by government to take seriously these negotiations at a time when workers are already victims of an increase of VAT and the Fuel Levy will feed the already rising tensions.

We caution government against creating an environment that will force workers to consider withdrawing their labour and embark on what will be a calamitous strike. The consequences of such a strike will reverberate all the way to 2019 and the resultant resentment will muddy the political waters with dire consequences.

The last time that the public service workers went on strike in 2010, the strike lasted more than a month and the economy hemorrhaged billions of rands, as a result. Workers across the board are united and if we are forced into a public sector strike, they will shut down this country especially since workers are still reeling from a very a hostile budget.

We have noted the attempts by lobby groups and some media institutions to try and pile pressure on government to deal with what they call the “monster” that is the public service wage bill.Unfortunately, organisations like the Institute of Race Relations tend to focus on the lower levels in the public service hierarchy rather than the bloated managerial or executive levels, when they talk about the wage bill.


We are also aware that it was under Minister Nhlanhla Nene in 2014, when the public service wage-bill became a matter of focus at the Treasury. The National Treasury has already stated that over the next three years a spending ceiling or limit would be imposed on the public service wage-bill, and the plan is to reduce spending on salaries of public servants both in the national and provincial departments by R10 billion in 2017/18 and R15 billion in 2018/19.


In fact ,the Budget Review presented last year 2017 in Parliament confirmed this austerity posture, with the planned reduction in the expenditure ceiling targeting existing vacancies in the public service already taking place. What this means is that workers that are at the lower levels in the public service hierarchy or that are not in specific professional or vocational categories and that fall under the General Public Service are the ones that have been targeted for these drastic cuts.


The Institute of Race Relations has been harping on about the wage bill without acknowledging that we have the same number of workers now that we had in 1994. In 1994 we had about 1,4 million public servants servicing a population of 40 million and today the same number of public servants service 52 million people. Currently government is sitting with more than 150 000 vacancies in the public service.

When you have a state where two thirds of the population depend on government for their survival; it is silly and unreasonable to be talking about reducing the number of public servants and talking about the wage bill. This is not about the wage bill but it has everything to do with the fact that some members of the dominant white elite and  their institutions do not care or give a damn about black people who depend on government for their livelihoods. They do not have to queue in township and rural hospitals that are understaffed and their kids do not have to sit in overcrowded classrooms. Public servants are already overworked, underpaid, stressed and highly indebted. This indifferent approach by government to their salary demands is a blatant act of provocation that will end in tears if not properly addressed.

COSATU wants to make it clear to government that we will not allow public servants to be treated as glorified slaves. We are ready to push back and take this fight all the way to its logical conclusion.

Issued by COSATU

Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794