The government will restructure the civil service despite objections from trade union federation Cosatu, says Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.
Cosatu warned after its central executive committee meeting this week that workers would not vote for the ANC in the 2019 national elections if government does not halt to its plans to restructure.
“We view the plans to retrench workers as an act of ultimate betrayal, especially after the government’s decision to increase VAT [value-added tax] after promising not to do so,” Cosatu said.
Dlodlo dismissed Cosatu’s threats and said government had no choice but to forge ahead with its restructuring, which she insisted was not intended to cut jobs.
“We will restructure. We have to restructure. We have to realign for us to be more effective and more efficient. Otherwise our people are going to vote this ANC out of power,” Dlodlo said.
“If you [Cosatu] are going to look at the macro reconfiguration of the state as a threat to your membership numbers then you’re missing the point. The point is you don’t restructure to get rid of people, you restructure to make the system effective and efficient. Will it culminate in a loss of jobs? I don’t know,” she added.
Last week the Mail &Guardian reported that discussions were under way in government for the allocation of “employer-initiated” severance packages for 30 000 public servants to ease pressure on the wage bill.
Government insiders said the employer-initiated route was taken after people showed little interest in taking the voluntary severance packages and that treasury had already set aside R4-billion for the employer-initiated retrenchments.
They did not clarify what the difference was between voluntary retrenchment and employer initiated retrenchment.
Dlodlo said that, although she was aware that money had been set aside to fund the restructuring, she said the severance packages would not be employer-initiated.
Yet in a statement issued last week, Dlodlo said: “It is true that an employer-initiated package and early retirement without penalties are being considered but government is yet to engage labour unions on the matter.”
In her interview with the M&G this week, Dlodlo admitted that, during the public sector wage negotiations, government had tabled the employer-initiated process as an option but unions shot it down.
“We did have that discussion with unions and it was rejected. We’ve moved on,” Dlodlo said. “[We considered it] so that we could reduce the number of people and bring in more young people,” she added.
A document from the public service and administration department shows that more than 174 000 employees are over the age of 55. Dlodlo wants to reduce this figure and replace older workers with younger personnel who come in at a lower pay scale.
She said this would be done to reduce the wage bill and address the youth unemployment crisis.
“If I can get 50% of the workforce of government being the youth I would have done very well,” she said.
But Cosatu has dismissed the government’s argument that it wanted to make room for young people.
“We are a working-class formation. Young people are not a class. We will never understand the argument that says make the mother and father unemployed and have the kid employed,” said Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla. “That’s not an economic policy; it’s silly to suggest it is one.”
There appears to be some misalignment between Dlodlo’s department and treasury, which came up with the figure of 30 000 employee jobs that need to be cut to reduce the salary bill by R20-billion.
Dlodlo said the treasury’s simulations and projections could not be implemented without her department, which was the employer.
“There is nothing wrong with them [treasury] doing their own simulations. They have to look at the numbers. But I am responsible for labour relations. I am responsible for ensuring the public sector is efficient and effective,” she said.
But a senior government official told the M&G that Dlodlo’s department had been slow to come up with restructuring guidelines, which put pressure on treasury to look for a solution.“Treasury is under pressure because it manages the purse of government. So it is under pressure to ensure the process is implemented. But it does not generate regulations;that must be done by [the department].”
“Lack of capacity [in the department] is what is going to derail the process, which will then put pressure on government to persuade people,” the official said. “The pressure is on to ensure the salary bill does not escalate.”
Meanwhile, Dlodlo said she had submitted to President Cyril Ramaphosa a new ministerial handbook, which limits ministers’ benefits.
She said another way to reduce costs would be to bring Parliament to Gauteng and cut the number of deputy ministers.
Last week the M&G reported that government was planning to reduce the number of departments from 36 to between 18 and 24, which could reduce the employment numbers. This is expected to be implemented after next year’s elections.