Public service wages: It's not about 'us' vs 'them', but SA is in bad shape - Mchunu

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Minister of Public Service and Administration, Senzo Mchunu.
Minister of Public Service and Administration, Senzo Mchunu.
  • Minister of Public Service and Administration Senzo Mchunu says that there has never been and will not be a resolution from government that undermines collective bargaining.
  • Public sector wage negotiations are under way, but Mchunu said that any outcome should be in the country's interest.
  • Government is also addressing the trust deficit with labour by quelling corruption, says Mchunu.

There has and never will be a resolution by government that undermines collective bargaining, says Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu.

The minister was speaking during a briefing on Thursday where he addressed "doubt" surrounding public wage negotiations that are under way. The doubt stems from government not paying wage increases for public servants last year, as per a clause of the 2018 wage agreement. Trade unions had challenged the government reneging on the agreement, but a Labour Appeal Court last year ruled the enforcement of the clause is unlawful.

Unions are appealing the ruling with the Constitutional Court. Mchunu said that government will respect any decision by the court. 

Apart from the Constitutional Court case, Mchunu noted that negotiations are happening against the backdrop of a "bad state" of the country's economy. As pointed out by National Treasury, the country is heading for a "fiscal cliff".

'We are in bad shape'

"When it comes to government finances - income and expenditure - we are in quite a bad shape. It is a fact that we have to acknowledge," said Mchunu.

Other factors contributing to the difficulty of negotiations include that the state had to divert resources to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mchunu added that negotiations for the 2021/22 year are also behind schedule they were to start last year but had been delayed. The public sector is also in need of drastic changes. "We are not going to talk about where the change needs to be, but we can't continue the way we are continuing," said Mchunu. 

Mchunu confirmed that a 0% increase had been put forward by government's team, which is participating in the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council. Mchunu said that this reflected what Treasury has said about the country's dire fiscal position.

Mchunu explained that a 0% increase is an "oversimplification", as it ignores increases in other areas that cover public servants. He said that these matters are being dealt with in the negotiations.

Asked whether the government is wary of a potential strike if no agreement is reached, Mchunu said that government must ensure stability and peace in the country, especially amid the pandemic.

"The last thing we will want to see or hear about is a deepening of instability in the country coming from the public sector. That is why we have made efforts to ensure wage negotiations are a success. We have no choice," he said. He said parties must work in such a way that there will be no need for a strike. "We want to negotiate in good faith."

He said it was important for the government not to make misrepresentations of affordability, which creates problems when parties are lied to. "We need an outcome which will create stability for the country and will not be reckless."

No 'us versus them'

Mchunu said that the government wanted to discourage an "us-and-them" approach to negotiations, where unions table demands and government responds. He noted that "active engagement" is required to ensure "amicable" do you outcomes. He said that government wasn't looking for a "win", but wanted each party to be heard to provide a "balanced outcome".

An independent facilitator has been appointed to make sure that there is an outcome in the country's interests. "The country has to win - not government's team."

Mchunu noted that there was a trust deficit with labour, mainly because the government is "seen" as corrupt. Mchunu said that since the 2019 elections, work was being done to repair the trust deficit between the government and all sectors of society.

"We know it won't be a matter of one day. Trust is earned and takes a while. We are aware of the trust deficit, and we are addressing it."

The Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit mainly is managing public servants doing business with the state and improving discipline and ethics in the public service, he said. Investigations by the Special Investigating Unit, the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and Auditor General are also under way. "The whole of society must turn its back on corruption," said Mchunu.

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