President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday there would be no mass layoffs of public sector workers as his government considers various ways to pull the economy out of a recession that has rattled the rand and investor confidence.
Ramaphosa, who was speaking at trade union federation Cosatu’s electoral conference in Johannesburg, also took a swipe at those accused of being involved in a plot to unseat him, and called for unity.
The economy slipped into recession in the second quarter for the first time since 2009, data showed in August, a stinging blow to Ramaphosa’s pledge to revive the economy and reduce record-high unemployment after a decade of stagnation.
In June, the National Treasury said it was considering layoffs and early retirement packages for staff in the public sector to avoid breaking its pledge to cut spending after unions clinched above-inflation wage increases.
“The mass retrenchment of public sector workers is not under consideration,” Ramaphosa said.
“The context of slow economic growth and weak revenue collection means that expenditure on other critical things will suffer ... but we need to address this in a way that does not put the livelihoods of public sector workers at risk.”
The contraction in the economy sent the rand tumbling and triggered warnings from ratings agency Moody’s that the country would struggle to increase revenue and deliver on a promise to cut spending and public debt.
South Africa needs faster economic growth to reduce its 27% unemployment rate and alleviate poverty and inequality, both of which stoke instability.
The ANC has made repeated pledges to improve the economy. Unemployment is a key concern for voters ahead of elections next year.
Meanwhile outgoing Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini mentioned the challenges facing workers, such as retrenchments and the VAT increase.
In his last address as president, Dlamini said Cosatu remained committed to fighting against these challenges and warned those trying to undermine the organisation that it was “still a force to be reckoned with”
He told delegates that one of their great achievements was the introduction of the national minimum wage.
“You should not be ashamed to stand up today and say congratulations to yourself, patting yourselves on the back.”
City Press’s sister publication News24 reported that Cosatu looked likely to elect its first female president – Zingiswa Losi – as it sat for its 13th national congress this week.
Losi is Cosatu’s second deputy president, alongside Tyotyo James, who is also expected to step down, along with Mike Shingange, the current first deputy president at the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, who is pitted for one of the two deputy posts.
General secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali, deputy general secretary, Solly Phetoe, and treasurer Freda Oosthuysen are expected to retain their positions.
Cosatu will also have to spend its four-day conference deliberating over the health of its affiliates and its own relevance in the labour sector, as well as its role in the alliance with the ANC, SACP and the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco), while sharpening its position on issues such as land, the minimum wage and job insecurity. – Reuters, with additional reporting by News24