Civil Servant Wages Row

Drew Forrest

THE impasse over the salaries of ministerial staff posed a serious threat to the effectiveness of South Africa’s new executive and to the implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme, government insiders warned this week.

Confusion over the staffers’ earnings and ranking in the civil service were a clear indication that the integration of the state bureaucracy — unlike that of the defence force — had been neglected by World Trade Centre negotiators, they said.

Yesterday the 100 000-strong Public Servants Association withdrew legal action to black the implementation of contracts of employment for ministerial support staff after the government agreed to negotiate the issue.

The contract system, agreed at a cabinet meeting on June 26, was intended to allow the staffers with administrative experience in the “parallel civil service” of the liberation movements or non-governmental organisations, but without standard civil service qualifications, to be appointed at salaries in line with their responsibilities. The PSA argues that as it has not been negotiated with public service unions, it is an unfair labour practice.

The salaries offered in the contracts — ranging up to R194 099 a year for private secretaries, administrative secretaries and PROs — have also hit flak, on grounds that they grossly exceed normal civil service pay levels. However, defenders stress that contract staffers forfeit job security (they are employed only for the term of the minister) as well as standard perks such as employer contributions to pensions and medical aid.

The court case sparked a fierce response from ANC secretary general Cyril Ramaphosa, who accused the PSA of “defending the narrow, self-interested attitudes of the privileged, mainly white incumbents of most senior posts” and threatened to scrap the constitutionally guaranteed job security of existing civil servants.

But Ramaphosa faces the opposition of more than the largely white PSA. Both Cosatu and its public service affiliate, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, have attacked the contract system. Many ANC-supporting ministerial staffers also reject it.

“Some people have been here many years and someone half their age comes in earning more than they do. It causes divisions between the old and new,” said Beryl Baker, administrative secretary for Housing Minister Joe Slovo and chairman of the Ad Hoc Civil Servants’ Committee. There was no job security under the contract system, she added.

Baker said the contracts had been negotiated but not signed. In the meantime, new appointees were being paid according to gradings which did not reflect their responsibilities. “Because I don’t have a bachelor’s degree and ‘appropriate’ experience, I’m ranked as a senior administrative clerk. Many of us have taken a 50 percent salary cut.”

Baker stressed the grading stalemate was hampering the work of the ministry. In a highly hierarchical system, she lacked the ranking needed to secure the co-operation of housing department old-timers.

Other sources said the hiatus between ministries and departments posed a serious threat to the implementation of new policy — and specifically the RDP. “Civil servants have constitutional job guarantees; the task of propagating the government’s new approach will therefore have to be by osmosis, from above,” one source commented.

Urging the scrapping of the contract system, Baker suggested the resolution of the impasse lay in “condoning” the qualifications and experience of the new entrants.

Public Administration Minister Zola Skweyiya confirmed that no one had yet been formally appointed on contract. Government had intended taking the contract proposal to the public service bargaining forum, but had been pre-empted by a press leak.

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