Johannesburg - Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s plans to weed out “ghost workers” in the civil service received a boost on Friday after the country’s two biggest public-sector unions supported it.
But some had reservations about Gordhan’s suggestions that there were too many administrators in the public service and not enough front-line staff.
Gordhan announced these measures to curb the rising public-sector wage bill as part of his medium-term budget policy statement, which was tabled in Parliament on Thursday.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), which collectively represent 528 000 of the country’s 1.3 million civil servants, are behind the weeding out of ghost state employees (fake employees), but they maintained the civil service is not bloated.
“We have had ghost workers in the past where senior people in government created positions that do not exist and pocketed the money for themselves.
“We agree that this should be investigated and people involved must be fired as this amounts to corruption,” said Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke.
He dismissed long-held suggestions by economists that the civil service was too big and needed to be trimmed.
“The public service is not bloated because there are a lot of vacancies that have not been filled. However, the bureaucracy at the top is bloated... It is not reflective of a developmental or service-delivery oriented state,” Maluleke told City Press.
Nehawu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla also welcomed Gordhan’s ghost-busting crusade, but likewise rejected the idea that the civil service has ghost staff.
He said: “We are not apprehensive about the statements made by him (Gordhan).”
He said government’s plans for health would mean more posts.
“There won’t be retrenchments in the civil service. For instance, we need about 65 000 nurses to implement national health insurance,” Pamla said.
Trade union federation Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi had reservations, however, about the measures proposed by Gordhan, especially if it meant a “slimmed-down state”.
He said Cosatu supported the appointment of more “people on the ground to do the work” such as teachers, doctors and nurses, but not if it meant positions would be cut.
“How does (Gordhan) know there are too many administrators and why did he not act against this all along? I am worried this is going to mean a slimmer state.”
Vavi said ghost workers should have been rooted out “in the first place”.
He said: “To me the issue sounds rhetorical. If there are ghost workers he should have long removed them. Why wait until now as if there was not wastage and corruption in the first place?”
Vavi also said Cosatu was opposed to people who were “unjustifiably” moved up notches in the public service because this pointed to possible corruption.
But he added “there are systems that allow people to be moved (up notches) and these should not be undermined”.
Gordhan told journalists on Thursday, hours before his medium-term budget policy speech, that he and Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu would look at ways of trimming the wage bill.
He said cuts could be made getting rid of ghost workers and overtime, while “notches (higher job grades) granted without purpose” should be re-examined.
He also said there were too many administrators and not enough front-line staff.
“There are a number of surplus staff in public service who are not deployed to work,” Gordhan said, adding that if the ghost workers were rooted out, the state could save billions of rands.
National Treasury documents show that the wage bill will rise over the next three years and that it will amount to more than one-third of state spending.
Out of the R1 trillion government is spending this year, R378.3bn will go towards paying civil servants.
In 2015, the wage bill will gulp R456.2bn of the R1.3 trillion government expects to spend that year.
At provincial level, where delivery of social services such as education and health is done, salaries account for about 59% of expenditure.
National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile said the growth in the wage bill over the next three years will be driven by wage increases instead of the recruitment of new state employees.
“It is less likely there will be a material increase in personnel, except in (the) health (department),” said Fuzile.
Health is the second-biggest spending category after salaries, with the state spending R220bn on it.
This week, Gordhan revealed an extra R5.5bn had to be added to the wage bill for “higher than expected personnel remuneration increase cost”.
This came after public-sector unions this year negotiated higher-than-inflation pay rises for their members.
Treasury also announced government had identified savings of up to R40bn over the next three years.
The savings plus drawdowns from the contingency reserve will be used to partly fund the rising state wage bill.
- City Press