Source: African News Agency on IOL


The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is appalled that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) advocates for natural attrition in the public service. In an article published on the Business Day, it is reported that the partners of the ruling party in the Tripartite Alliance, SACP and COSATU, have opposed retrenchments but “advocated for government to allow for natural attrition within the public service.”

Natural attrition and the public service headcount

Saying that you are against retrenchments in the public service, but approve natural attrition is tantamount to saying nothing. Natural attrition differs with retrenchments in content, but is quantitatively and qualitatively similar in consequence. Besides, the public service has not experienced retrenchment problems as such. The main problem in the public service employment has been closure of posts during natural attrition, which has contributed to the reduction in the headcount. Natural attrition in the public service means that when the current public service employees goes on retirement, pass-on or resign, their vacant posts are not filled but are closed.

In 2022, Treasury revealed in its Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) that the public service had a 0,1% reduction of the headcount between 2015/16 and 2021/22 financial years. Health department’s employees decreased by 7 846 between 2015/16 and 2018/19. The headcount increased between 2019/20 and 2021/22 because of the pressure of the need for more health workers brought by Covid-19 pandemic. Provincial departments are however back to their ways of not absorbing the nurses who have completed their nursing diplomas through government funded programme in provincial schools of nursing.

Even worse, the police headcount has declined by 13 575 since 2015/16. This happens at a time when the socio-economic crisis of capitalism has stimulated crime and violence to increase and worsen. This means they are decreasing police officers at the time when we need police officers to fight crime.

The advocacy for natural attrition by COSATU and SACP is a betrayal to the public service employees. Natural attrition, which will worsen the reduction in the headcount, will increase the misery for our workers in public service. The misery include increased workload, which leads to increased conflict at workplaces, fatigue and mental problems for the public services employees. In health, this also means the clinics that are operating 24 hours may cease to operate 24 hours as the ministry will be under pressure to balance the shortage of staff and working hours, reducing them to operate only 12 hours as it has been the case in different townships and villages.

The consequence of reduced headcount in the public services are not only borne by public service employees, but also recipients of public services as it leads to declining quality in public services. Long queues in hospitals and traffic offices, overcrowding in schools and lesser-time response of police, are amongst other factors, caused by decreasing and stagnant headcount in the public service.

This betrayal comes because of the marriage of inconvenience that COSATU and SACP have entered into with the ANC, which they maintain with much enthusiasm despite the latter championing neoliberal anti-working class policies. The marriage is only convenient for the careerists in both SACP and COSATU who wants to move into government bureaucracy, not to represent the interest of workers.

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