Unions and civil society groups blast government’s plan to lay off 30 000 government employees


Ayanda Mdluli

JOHANNESBURG- Some union and civil society movements have criticised governments plans to cut 30 000 jobs in the public sector, vowing to fight against the move through a series of boycotts and other industrial action that will further land more blows to an already ailing South African economy.

On Friday, the Mail and Guardian reported that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration is planning to get rid of 30 000 public servants over the next three years as part of government’s cost-cutting measures.

Quoting government insiders who attended the Cabinet Lekgotla, the report suggests that the national treasury has set aside R4 billion to initiate the process of issuing severance packages to workers.

According to the report, the layoffs would reduce the government’s salary bill by R20 billion.

However, some labour and civil society movements are having none of it, claiming that this approach to reducing the state goes against SA’s developmental ambitions as it would create a situation where many people would end up being burdens on the state once they lose their jobs and cannot find alternative employment elsewhere.

Explaining how the ANC led government could have reached such a drastic conclusion without finding other means to cut costs, Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) said the move to lay off 30 000 employees in the public service is an ANC government-led initiative and could not be beholden to former president Jacob Zuma or Ramaphosa’s administrations.

Pressure from the Bretton Wood Institution

However, the previous administration had halted the drastic austerity measures which were announced by Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan when he was the minister of finance before he was removed from the cabinet by Zuma.

According to Vavi, the latest move by Ramaphosa is meant to comply with the instructions of the rating agencies and IMF and World Bank who hold a view that our public service is bloated.

“This is a final nail to the coffin of the unemployed as it gives a signal to the bosses in the private sector that now is the time to send more workers to join the 9,6 million long and growing unemployment queue,” said Vavi.

Vavi was also swift to criticise the logic of having a jobs summit in the face of widespread retrenchments in the public sector. He was of the view that it makes no sense to convene a jobs summit which offers nothing to workers, in particular for those who are currently unemployed and for those who will be facing unemployment in the short term.

“The announcement makes the Minister of Minerals Gwede Mantashe’s condemnation of Impala Platinum’s decision to curl 13000 jobs not only opportunistic but intellectually disingenuous and silly. SAFTU won’t attend the Jobs Summit which is about pulling wool on workers eyes. The people who are supposed to work to address these catastrophic levels of poverty and unemployment are speaking with both sides of their mouths. One side gives us crocodile tears and a pretence that they care while the other side they are launching and intensifying an austerity programme that they know will not affect them,” explained Vavi.

A Shortage of skills

It is also widely known that South Africa’s public sector is suffering from a skills shortage where critical departments are having to grapple with not having the right personnel to ensure effective and efficient service delivery.

The MEC of Gauteng Dr Gwen Ramakgopa recently told citizens that Gauteng health is understaffed. Also, when it comes to education, the ratios of teachers/pupil are continuously getting worse where classrooms are overcrowded while some schools do not have teachers or adequate infrastructure.

“After the 30 000 job cuts we can all imagine what will happen to the state capacity to deliver justice, education, health and municipal services,” said Vavi.

Boitumelo Senokoane, an associate professor at UNISA and general secretary of APSA said he was not surprised at the revelations, arguing that “anything is possible under President Ramaphosa administration”.

“He is pro-capitalist and bureaucratic in his approach. Marikana is an example of his strategy. The workers asked for R12 500 and his response was to cut jobs. The people of South Africa cannot act surprised because this is the same person they know where he stands and voted him anyway. Cutting of cost can never be a solution in a developing poor country where the unemployment is high. We should rather be creating more jobs than cutting.

Senokoane believed that the cutting of jobs would also lead to non-functionality and there was no proof that cutting of jobs can cut costs.

“In fact, reduction creates more problems and social instability, but the President is not worried because he will survive as an individual and as a business person,” said Senokoane.

Civil society group TransformRSA told Africa News 24-7 that it strongly disagreed with the State’s plan to lay off 30 000 government employees.

Adil Nchabeleng, the president of Transform RSA said the South African economy is at an ailing stage and was struggling severely to improve largely due to the rate of unemployment and joblessness which are at its highest and so to further put more people out of work is not a responsible way of leading and governing.

“The country is currently shedding massive amounts of jobs in all sectors apart from the state as one of the largest employers. And what is worse is that the economy under the New Dawn of the ANC administration, it is not creating any new jobs even though the main theme of the New Dawn was around creating new jobs and accelerating economic growth. The promised jobs have not been created and the economy is in a slump and is on a downward trajectory. More and more people are being retrenched and businesses are closing,” said Nchabeleng.

He added that it was a cause for concern that government, in the middle Women’s month released a plan aimed at disadvantaging women employed in the public sector.

“It is a well-known fact that the most gender to be affected and punished by the planned jobs cuts are mostly women, so we condemn this plan in the strongest sense and we appeal to the ANC and the president to prioritize creation of jobs and employment as a top priority objective of the state,” said Nchabeleng