South Africa’s government wage bill is expected to take front and centre stage in the coming months as labour unions and workers push for bigger increases.
Briefing parliament’s standing committee on appropriations this week, experts from the National Treasury warned that the wage bill is one of the ‘biggest threats to the country’s fiscus currently, with a regulatory push being made to further legislate how much workers are paid.
It added that no provision has been made for compensation increases above the carry through implications of the 2021/22 public service wage agreement, while departments are required to continue adhering to their compensation ceilings and, if needed, reduce personnel numbers to sustainable levels.
However, the country’s labour unions have been clear that they expect a substantial increase for workers after the cuts made during the Covid-19 pandemic and rising inflation has increased the cost of living.
The latest Bureau of Economic research shows that unions now expect salary and wage inflation of 6.1% this year and 6.3% in 2023.
“Workers have every reason to be livid when 2.2 million of them have lost their jobs in the last two years. It was provocative of the government to pickpocket public servants of their salary increases in 2020,” the Congress of South African Trade Unions said in its 1 May address.
“Workers have lost jobs from state-owned companies (which were) looted by senior politicians in collusion with the private sector.”
What workers earn
South Africa’s government currently employs around 13% of all workers in the country (around 1.2 million people) – yet it pays 33% of all wages.
Responding in a written parliamentary Q&A in October 2021, public service and administration minister Ayanda Dlodlo said that there are currently 16 salary bands across the public service, with employees in band 1 earning an average salary of R103,562.
By comparison, public sector workers in band 16 currently earn an average of over R2.1 million.
Dlodlo also provided a breakdown of how many workers are in each salary band, with the largest number of workers falling between salary bands 5 and 9.
|Salary band||Total number of employees per salary level||Current average salary per salary level|
|2||77 651||R171 278|
|3||69 003||R206 957|
|4||38 663||R247 296|
|5||201 244||R283 227|
|6||129 361||R332 985|
|7||306 703||R411 227|
|8||159 899||R479 868|
|9||99 927||R567 956|
|10||54 510||R710 273|
|11||35 365||R851 022|
|12||27 399||R1 222 246|
|13||7 660||R1 147 609|
|14||2 405||R1 378 620|
|15||528||R1 661 168|
|16||712||R2 130 602|
29,000 public servants – plus members of the national executive, MPs and members of the provincial executive – earned more than R1 million in 2018, BusinessDay reports.
Data from the 2021 Budget shows that the average government worker remuneration passed R400,000 a year in 2019, with this figure reaching the R450,000 mark in 2021.
Data published at the end of April 2022 shows that South Africa’s real average take-home pay declined to R14,969 in March.