Government is asking South Africans for help with one of its biggest problems

Public Service and Administration minister Senzo Mchunu has called on the citizens of South Africa to come forward with proposals that might assist in resolving the deadlock between the government and organised labour over the current public service wage negotiations.

This comes after government and labour reached a deadlock on negotiations on Friday, Mchunu said in a statement.

The minister held a media briefing last week Thursday (22 April), saying that these were the most difficult wage negotiations ever faced by both parties.

He said there are a number of factors at play, including the bad state of the country’s economy; Covid-19; the outcome in the Labour Appeal Court, with organised labour appealing the decision in the Constitutional Court; as well as the need for urgent reforms in the public service, to name a few.

“Whilst government has made mention of the fact that it has appointed a Lead Negotiator, and whilst government has since responded to Labour’s demands, the parties have reached a deadlock.

“A number of proposals have been put forth by experts such as economists and actuaries as well as other individuals; the viability of those proposals is being probed. Government is passionately keen on making further efforts to find a solution and in this regard, is inviting proposals.”

“Having elaborated on the four components which comprise the public service during the briefing, namely: the Citizens, Government, Public Service and Public Servants, the minister is making a call for proposals that might potentially resolve the deadlock in respect of the wage negotiations.”

Citizens, professionals, and civil organisations are all invited to assist in resolving the deadlock by providing proposals, including, innovative ideas on how best to improve government, citizens and labour relations, he said.

Those interested in submitting proposals can contact the department’s media liaison officer Kamogelo Mogotsi through her email here.

Major problem

Government has allowed the public sector wage bill to bloat significantly over the last decade, to the point that it now accounts for over a third of total government expenditure.

With little room to grow the country’s tax base – and thus increase revenue – government has no choice but to look at cutting expenditure to balance the country’s books, and finance minister Tito Mboweni has promised to do so, including a massive cut to the wage bill of R160 billion over the next three financial years.

Following the 2020 mid-term budget policy statement, analysts and economists warned that the government’s plans to cut spending and ease the burden on the economy hinged on the implementation of its promise to cut wages – which needs support from unions.

This was also flagged by ratings agencies in the weeks following the budget, as they noted that the government’s track record with following through on budget cuts – particularly around the wage bill – was poor.

The cutting back of the government’s wage bill is core to National Treasury’s plan to rein in spending. If the government buckles to pressure from unions – or the courts hand a victory to unions over the 2020 wage freeze – taxpayers will be footing the bill.

Should the government lose or buckle and be forced to pay the back-dated wages, it could be on the hook for as much as R294 billion.

Read: 6 things that have become more expensive in South Africa over the last year

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Government is asking South Africans for help with one of its biggest problems