No money, and no plan B, for public sector wage increases: Senzo Mchunu

'When it comes to government finances, income and expenditure, we are in quite bad shape,' minister admits

Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu. File photo.
Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu. File photo.
Image: Jackie Clausen

The government says it does not have the money nor a backup plan should negotiations around public sector wages fail.

This as government workers demand a salary increase of consumer price inflation plus four percentage points.

The workers are also demanding a risk allowance of 12% of basic salary because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu on Thursday said they were hopeful negotiations would go well despite the government formally tabling a 0% wage increase for the 2021/2022 financial year. 

“When it comes to government finances, income and expenditure, we are in quite a bad shape,” he said. 

This after the National Treasury “unequivocally” told the cabinet the state had no money.

“I don't know what plan B would mean. There is only one plan, it is plan A to say we are in negotiations with organised labour and we are in the chambers. We don't want to undermine the chamber and collective bargaining, we want the chamber to be a success,” he said.  

Finance minister Tito Mboweni last year announced that the government would implement a three-year salary freeze in the sector to cut government spending by R300bn and bring ballooning state debt of R3.95 trillion under control.

Government workers have threatened to embark on huge protests that will disrupt and shut down the sector. Mchunu said they were not oblivious to this.

“We are aware of the magnitude of the problem, that's why we came here to address the citizens of the country to say even though there are difficulties, including the Constitutional Court, threats of strike action, we still have confidence that matters will be resolved and we will ensure stability and peace in the public service. We are not undermining anything, we are taking cognisance of everything,” he said.    

As part of the government's commitment to end the deadlock, Mchunu revealed that an independent facilitator had been appointed to ensure negotiations succeeded.  

“The mandate to him and the team is that they should not take the posture of people who want to win — the country has to win, not the government’s team. We need to move away from and avoid separation — there is no us and them.”

He urged all those who sat at the negotiating table to be courageous, exercise leadership and negotiate with their brains and hearts.  

“Negotiate as patriotic citizens, not as adversaries. We ourselves are investing a lot into these negotiations and are expecting a lot from the outcome, doing so in good faith and with the utmost transparency under circumstances where National Treasury has unequivocally told cabinet that the state has no money; each proposal by either of the parties must be taken seriously, holistically and comprehensively. 

“You need to go beyond demands and arrive at solutions to challenges facing all of us collectively, avoiding confrontation,” he added.

Mchunu took the opportunity to talk tough on corruption, which he said had terrible consequences for the poor.

“The country is at war on all fronts against corruption and corrupt activities in the public service and public administration.”  

His department is among many under investigation by the SIU, NPA, Hawks and the auditor-general.

We encourage them to continue and not tire in their efforts. Government and its leadership pledges its support. There are encouraging signs within the governing party to mean what they say — not only in terms of rhetoric but also in their actions. The whole of society must turn its back on corruption,” he said. 

He added that the cabinet had approved the publication of the Public Service Amendment Bill and the Public Administration Management Amendment Bill for public comment.

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