Government should take responsibility for its policy failures and leave the workers alone

The current offensive that is currently directed at the public service employees, led by the National Treasury is alarming but not surprising for COSATU. Public Service employees are being unfairly singled out and targeted by some inflammatory and misleading rhetoric, with a narrative being created that the public sector wage bill is threatening the state’s survival even though the wage bill is, in fact, stable and in line with international norms at 35% of the consolidated budget.

The National Treasury in its efforts to reduce the budget deficit, as it always happens in crisis situations is targeting the so-called public service wage-bill. What is more troubling is that the focus is on the lower levels in the public service hierarchy rather than the bloated managerial or executive levels.

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.

COSATU will oppose and fight this because we believe that workers, in the public service, are being used as scapegoats by the people who are failing to admit that their previous policies have worsened a bad situation since 1994. The truth is that the imposition of GEAR in the mid-1990s meant that the necessary reform of the Apartheid public sector took place along the lines of the so-called New Public Management in which GEAR set the overarching Neoliberal framework.

Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi’s New Public Management was about curbing spending on personnel salaries which it saw as consumption (therefore wasteful) rather than investment, hence it also promoted the containment of the public service wage-bill. In the delivery of services, the New Public Management insisted on the user-payer principle (e.g. such as the e-tolls) as opposed to cross-subsidisation of the poor by the rich. It promoted the commodification of public services rather than the promotion of constitutional or citizenship rights and as such citizens became “customers” or “clients” in the practice of the delivery of public services.

In part the crises of poor service delivery manifested in the often-violent community protests were related to the impact and legacy of such reforms that have weakened the state’s capacity and unleashed profit-maximisation in the delivery of public services.

The South African state has been taken over by private interests, both the established white business and the emerging black business. The influence of white business interests has been manifested in policy development (not only at the Treasury but across government) and in large construction projects of the National Infrastructure Plan. Whilst black business interests tended to be largely involved in boards of the SOEs and in the delivery of the outsourced services such as security, office letting, cleaning, catering, housing, IT, etc.

Often the tender and procurement contracts struck between the state and these businesses (both black and white) have involved corruption and fraud, and many senior public servants have been exposed advancing their own narrow personal or some nepotistic interests in terms of such contracts.

As recently as 2015, the state was still pushing for the agencification of the state through the Border Management Agency Bill that was about creating an agency to manage all the functions that are operated at the borders and other points of entry outside the public service. This happened despite overwhelming evidence that agencification usually opened the door for wasteful outsourcing. Agencies like SASSA which turned out to be an empty shell merely created for the purpose of outsourcing functions to the private sector has been proof enough that agencification is a terrible idea.

The mismanagement of the public service and of the entire economy is not the fault of workers.

· The structural fault-lines of the semi-peripheral South African economy which is still trapped in a condition of dependency to the European Union and China for its mineral exports, with no substantial beneficiation for industrialisation and dominated by the four banking monopolies is not the fault of workers

· The relative persistence of this socioeconomic structure of colonialism of a special type that means that production and power remain concentrated in white capitalist hands, the old Apartheid oligarchy has got nothing to do with the workers.

· The looting of the Road Accident Fund is not the fault of workers

· Workers are not responsible for the culture of bling expenditure that has seen government spending R5 billion on cell phones.

· The workers are not responsible for the fact that the Department of Health is spending billions on medical malpractice claims. 

·Government’s corporate welfare culture that has seen private companies receiving billions through the Employment Tax Incentive (ETI), the Youth Employment Scheme (YES) Programme has been staunchly opposed by workers.

·The fact that according to the Auditor-General on average 10% of the budget is lost to corruption and wasteful expenditure has nothing to do with workers.

·Workers did not lose R500 billion to state capture. 

·Our Cabinet still ranks as one of the biggest in the world and the workers cannot be blamed for that.

According to the latest Quarterly Labour Survey, 29.1% of people of the working-age are officially unemployed. This is calamitous for the country because it means millions of young people will be dependent on the state for their well-being and that of their families. It is therefore bizarre to see that there are attempts by the government to weaken the capacity of the state through public service retrenchments.

The National Treasury’s neo-liberal capitalist trajectory has been proven time and again that it is it not the solution to our economic challenges. South Africa’s economic challenges call for bold measures of transformation and not in marginal programs and projects.  Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is not the only solution and it sometimes worsens the situation by encouraging external dependency and stifles economic transformation. The evidence shows that the neoliberal policies based on “market forces” and international competitiveness are not going to solve our economic problems because the same policies have seen more and more people sliding into poverty in this country.

Both the GEAR Macroeconomic Framework and the National Development Plan 2030 were adopted despite the objections of the workers. The current economic trends have unleashed very harsh conditions especially for the working class and the poor, on top of the already severe triple-crises of unemployment, poverty, and inequality. COSATU will not allow innocent public service employees to be punished for the sins of policymakers and decision-makers.

Whilst COSATU rejects these unwarranted attacks on the right of workers to a living wage, the federation is pleased that the government has finally recognised that such matters must be raised and engaged upon at the relevant collective bargaining forum, in this case, the Public Service Collective Bargaining Council.  If the government comes with an open mind then they will find unions ready to show them where the real wasteful expenditure and bloated wage bill is, at the executive and management levels.

The federation agrees that the state is in a crisis.  But the government must deal with the real sources of that crisis, like the naïve and discredited economic policies, the looting, and mismanagement of government and the SOEs and stop shifting the blame to workers, who barely earn enough to feed and clothe their families.

Issued by COSATU

Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

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