OPINION | Mboweni's adjustment budget is a chance to increase - not cut - public wages

Zola Saphetha Photo by Jabu Kumalo
Zola Saphetha Photo by Jabu Kumalo

The upcoming supplementary budget to be deliver by the Minister of Finance, Mr Tito Mboweni, in parliament presents government with an opportunity to make an allocation to pay public servants their salary increases which was due to them on 1 April 2020 as enshrined in the agreement signed at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council [PSCBC] in 2018.

As part of the agreement government was supposed to pay an across the board adjustment to the cost of living by CPI plus 1% for salary level 1 – 7, CPI plus 0.5% for salary level 8 – 10 and CPI for salary level 11 -12.

However, government pleaded poverty including blaming the outbreak of the coronavirus and the downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating to junk status by the credit rating agency Moody’s and the recession for reneging on implementing the agreement.

Government requires R32 billion to fund the last leg of the agreement; however, currently they claim to have R13 billion, and R10 billion from what they claim to have comes from funds meant to fund workers’ pay progression.

If trade unions were to accept this ridiculous suggestion it would mean that there will be no pay progression for the financial year 2020/21 for public service workers. No trade union worthy of its existence can even consider entering into a discussion to worsen the terms and conditions of work of its members and the working class in general. The total disregard of collective bargaining agreements must be condemned with the contempt it deserves as it seeks to reverse the hard-won gains of workers. Government must never be allowed to change binding collective agreements willy-nilly.

During the presentation of the budget speech by the Minister on 26 February 2020, the Minister announced that spending on the income of public servants would be reduced by R160 billion in the next three years. These reductions amount to R37.8 billion in 2020/21, R54.9 billion in 2021/22 and R67.5 billion in 2022/23.

This proves beyond reasonable doubt that government had no intention to implement the agreement but had broader plans to cut the size of the public service and freeze wages as well in the next three years. Government’s failure to reverse its decision to disrespect and renege on the 2018 public service wage agreement represents a frontal attack on the hard won gains of workers, particularly those who continue to make sacrifices providing front-line services to our people in saving lives, delivering essential services and enforcing law and order.

The Minister must use the supplementary budget to honour the last leg of the 2018 wage agreement by reducing the bloated executive and managerial packages, perks and packages of overpaid State-Owned Entities [SOE] managers.

The non-implementation of the last leg of the agreement has infuriated our members who in majority are working in the frontlines of fighting Covid-19 in various healthcare facilities across the country and in other government services performing essential service work.

Government does not care about the financial implications of the non-implementation of the salary increase on workers and their families. The cost of living has gone up, all basic commodities like food, medicine and transport costs have skyrocketed in recent times.

The spread of the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown has not made things easy as it has also place other huge financial burdens on households and their meagre incomes.

These workers are only trying to earn a living wage and be able to feed their families and clothe their children. A caring government would have implemented the agreement as is to ensure that the morale of workers remains high.

In January 2020, medical aid premiums went up as part of their annual increases resulting in our members and workers not receiving the same salary as in December and November 2019.

However, workers were anticipating the April 2020 salary increase to cushion the blow. Now that their salaries are not increased it means they are far worse off than they were last year and this will have a huge impact on their quality of life and the ability to afford basic necessities.

Our members and workers continue to serve our country selflessly during the fight against Covid-19. However, the issue of the implementation of the last leg of the 2018 public service wage agreement is still a thorny issue that remains unresolved.

Zola Saphetha is the General Secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU]. Views expressed are his own.

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