State mulls jobs freeze

2014-10-12 15:00

The government is considering freezing hundreds of thousands of unfilled public service jobs to curb runaway salary costs.

A freeze would also do away with posts that in some instances have stood vacant for months or even years.

Reliable sources within Cabinet informed City Press this week that Cabinet members, including Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and Public Service and Administration Minister Collins Chabane, were looking into the possibility of freezing some government posts and that the discussions were still “too sensitive” to talk about publicly.

“There are discussions within Cabinet regarding vacancies and the question being asked is, do we really need these posts because departments have not been able to fill them for many months, but they have continued to operate? The thinking is that government needs to prepare for future salary increments and having these fully funded posts vacant is just a waste of resources,” said a senior government official close to the Cabinet discussions.

At municipal level, nearly 50?000 posts are vacant, according to Stats SA’s report on the non-financial census of municipalities, which was released last month.

It is not the first time the government has contemplated freezing posts.

During the public service strike in 2010, Cabinet announced that it was considering freezing vacant posts in the public sector because of huge salary increases demanded by unions.

In 2012, government also abolished all “unfunded” vacancies, a decision that contributed to the substantial decrease in the vacancy rate from 16% in March 2012 to 8.3% last year. Unfunded posts are those that hadn’t already been budgeted for by the Treasury. Only once they were filled would the relevant departments seek funding.

The abolition of these posts came after the government vowed to keep the vacancy rate below the 10% threshold in 2012.

The vacancy rate has since hovered just above 9% – more than 100?000 posts – but it is understood the government is unhappy about departments continuing to budget for posts that they have been unable to fill.

The Treasury and department of public service and administration referred questions about the new plan to each other.

All Chabane’s spokesperson Brent Simons would say was that he was not aware of any discussions around a jobs freeze.

Cosatu, the country’s largest public sector union, said if government was considering this, it needed to carefully think about what kinds of jobs it would put on ice.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said: “In principle, vacant posts should be filled unless there is a good reason they should be not be filled. But that should involve unions as well. [They should] be given an opportunity to have a say.”

DA shadow minister for public service and administration Joe McGluwa said although the party was concerned about vacant posts, another major concern was the high number of people “acting” in senior positions at director and deputy director and management positions.

“A skills audit must be done before the public service jobs are frozen because we need quality people in the jobs. We need to root out the corruption and cadre deployment in the employment system first,” he said.

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