The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has slammed the government’s plans to implement a wage freeze on public sector workers, while continuing to offer several perks to government ministers and members of parliament.
The government plans to increase the wage bill by an average of only 1.2% per year over 2021/22 to 2023/2024 – while the 2020/21 wage freeze is still subject to a Constitutional Court judgement.
Public sector unions entered the wage talks with a demand of CPI plus 4% – or 7% – which has resulted in a deadlock.
Presenting in parliament on Wednesday (12 May), Cosatu representative Matthew Parks said that the public servant wage bill was being used as a ‘scapegoat’ by the government and that, in fact, the public sector wage bill has been standing at 35% of gross domestic product (GDP) since 2019.
He further alleged that public sector jobs have already been frozen, as evidenced by the high teacher to learner ratio in school classrooms and the decrease in police budget.
Parks accused the state of wanting low-earning employees to tighten their belts, but said it does not want to lead by example.
If the government was serious about saving money it would start by slashing members of parliament perks, severance packages, scrap ministerial handbooks and cap management packages at state entities, he said.
“Ministers must lead by example. They must slash their perks as well as (the perks of) parliamentarians.
“Why must parliamentarians get severance packages at the end of their term. They must be treated like other workers. When workers leave their employ, they don’t get severance packages. Why do parliamentarians get them?”
When asked about the current impasse over public servant wages, Parks said that the freezing of public servants’ wages can’t be a matter that can be decided upon by government unilaterally in Pretoria.
“It’s a matter that needs collective bargaining,” he said. “There is a possibility of a win-win solution. There are creative ways that can be explored to find a solution to this matter.
“What we can’t do is to throw workers under the bus and ask them to tighten their belts when there is no cap on the perks of ministers and managers of state entities. Our task mandate as Cosatu is to protect workers against inflation.”
Government updated its ministerial handbook and associated perks in 2019, which covers everything from relocation expenses to cars.
Below are some of the biggest and most notable perks given to ministers.
- The South African Police Service (SAPS) shall provide the member with VIP Drivers and protectors for official purposes and in the interest of security;
- National Members shall be provided with one vehicle for official use in each seat of office. Provincial Members shall be provided with one vehicle for official use;
- The cost of this vehicle – including any security upgrades – will be determined by the minister of finance;
- In the event that an official vehicle is not procured for a member, they may be reimbursed for using their own private vehicle;
- Departments may only replace a motor vehicle purchased for a member if the vehicle has reached 120,000 km or 5 years, or if the car experiences serious mechanical problems and is in a poor condition;
- Spouses and other dependent family members may be transported in the member’s official vehicle.
- Members and their spouses (or an adult family member accompanying the Member in an official capacity) are entitled to travel for official purposes at the expense of the relevant department;
- This trip must be business class travel using the cheapest of three (3) quotations for the most cost-effective and convenient route;
- Members and their spouses may use VIP facilities at the relevant airports on domestic travel at the cost of the relevant department;
- No daily subsistence and travel allowance is payable to a member, their spouse, or minor children for domestic travel;
- National Members and their spouses are also jointly entitled to 30 (thirty) single domestic business class flight tickets per annum;
- Ministers and Deputy Ministers may only travel on official visits abroad if these are essential, in the national interest and with due regard to the availability of funds;
- Members may occupy a state-owned residence in the seat of office free of charge;
- The state will contribute up to R250,000 in security upgrades, with this amount to be revised annually;
- The ministry of departmental works will be responsible for paying for water and lights as well as employing a domestic worker for these homes;
- Rentals for phones (as well as the costs of official calls), the installation and maintenance of fax, internet/wifi and DSTV facilities will be paid for by the department.