How to make Zumafesto a reality

2010-07-31 14:08

Talent. As soon as government trains talent, it loses the cream of the crop. Except for those most committed to a life of public service – teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers, prison and municipal workers make a bee-line for the private sector.

It’s often better-paid and better-resourced with fewer demands and greater prospects than state employment.

Yet, in a job-starved country, the public ­service still attracts long queues and by ­the calculations of economist Mike Schüssler, one million public servants support five million ­dependents. So, as government stares down strike action this weekend, its tactic of ­creating a division between public servants and the public is not going to work.

Strike action in South Africa is common and legitimate, and as in other countries with deep and honourable histories of labour organisation, if strikes are well-run and peaceful, they tend to garner public support because most South African homes are still working class.

While the Public Servants Association is ­already on strike, the eight Cosatu-aligned trade unions which organise public servants are likely to go on strike next week. They want an 8.6% increase with a R1 000 housing allowance. Government is offering a 6.5% ­increase with a R630 housing allowance.

Public Service Minister Richard Baloyi says the government cannot afford the 8.6% increase because it would then not be able to provide ­public goods like schools, houses, roads and textbooks. Understaffed hospitals and schools will not get new nurses and teachers, says Baloyi, who also believes national sovereignty is ­threatened by the strike.

South Africa’s debt levels are manageable and our budget deficit is within healthy ­parameters. Government says we should not have to borrow to pay the demands of state employees who must exercise a public interest and hold off striking.

There is sense in this argument but it’s of little use telling public servants to tighten their belts when their political masters live so large.

The Cabinet, with its lavish ways, does not have the political capital to get its workers to make a trade-off of lower wages against higher services.

With multimillion-rand cars, five-star hotel splurges and private business interests that have seen the advent of the millionaire ­ministers, the boss does not walk the talk.

Besides, with parastatal workers at Eskom and Transnet now walking around with ­increases way higher than inflation, the pace has been set for public servants to follow as they bargain hard.

President Jacob Zuma needs public servants to make his manifesto released last week ­happen, and he is going to have to dig a little deeper to ensure the strike does not go ahead.

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