GODONGWANA’S AUSTERITY IS ANTI-WORKER AND ANTI-POOR
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) rejects the Minister of Finance’s utterances that the government will have to retrench staff in order to meet its austerity targets. These utterances, and the government’s unilateral imposition of the 3% wage increase, are an affirmation of the government’s commitment to neoliberal austerity.
The public service workers must forge ahead with the strike. The upcoming festive season present itself as an impediment, but only a momentary one. Whether it is this year, or 2023, the public servants must still wage a protracted struggle for an above inflation increase and to reverse neoliberal budget cuts.
FIGHT FOR 10% AND AGAINST RETRENCHMENTS
In an interview, Minister Enoch Godongwana said “the carry-through costs we have are only for the 3%”, meaning they cannot concede to the 10% wage demand. This is a matter of policy choice for them, and unfortunately, their policy choice is to self-impose (in agreement with IMF and World Bank) budget constraints.
These self-imposed budget constraints means the public servants must suffer the effects of the rising cost of living. SAFTU encourages all public servants to reject the 3% even if it is being unilaterally implemented. In our previous statement, we pointed out that the 3% means workers are incurring “serious losses both in wages and pension”.
In addition, the cuts on the public sector wage bill do not only affect wage increases for public servants. There are real and serious losses to the beneficiaries of public service— the working-class majority that constitutes 70-80% of the population that relies on public services.
Cuts on the public sector wage bill cause a reduction in the headcount across public service institutions. These are the retrenchment that Godongwana is contemplating. In reality, the retrenchments Godongwana is talking about are not in the contemplation stage, they are already being implemented. Those unfilled vacancies that end up being closed in clinics, and the staff establishment that keeps on shrinking at schools, are a result of the retrenchments that are underway. It is these retrenchments that among other factors cause long queues in clinics and hospitals, at traffic offices, shortage of paramedics and lack of social workers in communities and schools. It contributes to poor services.
PLEASING GLOBAL NEOLIBERAL INSTITUTIONS
Minister Godongwana said he is “not doing it [reducing the public sector wage bill] to please anybody”, and certainly, not because he is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
This is in response to our relentless criticism that he and the government are acting to please the global financial institutions of capitalism, IMF and the World Bank (WB).
Contrary to his denial, the fiscal policy recommendations from IMF and the World Bank are pushing him to implement the fiscal consolidation. Fiscal consolidation is a process of reducing government expenditure, in light of the belief that there is fiscal unsustainability caused by ballooning public debt. In accordance with this instrument (fiscal consolidation), the government implemented budget cuts (consolidate budget) to reduce government debt and budget deficit.
In 2018, the World Bank said that a “strong leadership is thus needed to maintain a sustainable fiscal policy” and achieve the “fiscal consolidation” which they lamented was not being implemented by the government. In the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) of 2019, Treasury echoed the World Bank by identifying the public sector wage bill as one of the major sites for consolidation. And in the financial year 2020/21, the government refused to implement the last leg of collective agreement 1 of 2018, which was validated by the courts in 2021. This refusal to pay wage increases for public servants in 2020/21 was an indicator that they have started attacking the public sector wage bill to appease the IMF and World Bank and prove their commitment to neoliberal macroeconomics.
SAFTU public service unions in the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), the South African Policing Union (SAPU) and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW), are actively mobilising for a public service strike.
Government has chosen neoliberalism over its workers and the public. Therefore, the public servants and the 70-80% of the public that relies on public services must collectively wage a fightback. The organised labour in the public service must lead the charge starting with this dispute, and the public must join to fight for the cessation of austerity in favour of expanding budget on government general expenditure to ensure that hospitals, clinics, schools, etc., are not only able to hire more workers, but have adequate infrastructure that is appropriately equipped.