SAFTU condemns 30,000 public sector ‘jobs slaughter’

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SAFTU (South African Federation of Trade Unions) is incensed at the report in the Mail & Guardian that there is a plan lay off 30,000 public servants in the next three years as part of the government’s cost-cutting measures.

The report, based on statements by ‘government insiders who attended this week’s Cabinet lekgotla (meeting)’, says that the treasury has set aside R4-billion for this financial year to kickstart the process of issuing severance packages to 30,000 staff in order to reduce the government’s salary bill by R20-billion.

This outrageous slaughter of jobs is a project of the ANC Government, not a Zuma or Ramaphosa project, which has been taken in order to comply with the instructions of the ratings agencies, the IMF and the World Bank, who hold a view that our public service is bloated.

It was announced initially by Pravin Gordhan in his 2016 budget speech, following which the treasury announced it was considering the implementation of voluntary severance packages to reduce the public sector wage bill. Now it says that attempts to do this had failed, prompting the government to opt for ‘employer-initiated’ packages, which is just a nice way of describing sackings.

‘The (voluntary) employee initiative is not working because employees are not moving,’ a senior official reportedly said. ‘If we don’t deal with it now, even if we (re) configure departments, we will still have the same number of government employees. So you must get rid of them so that it’s not only about reducing the strain in the form of ministers but also in the form of the number of officials.’

This announcement is the final nail in the coffin for not only these 30,000 workers, but for all the 9.08 million already unemployed, and employed workers whose jobs are now under threat, since it gives a signal to all the bosses in both the private and public sectors to follow the government’s own example and retrench even more workers than they are already doing.

This comes from a government which pretends to be concerned at the appalling levels of unemployment, whose president said on 1 August 2018 that the latest unemployment figures are ‘worrying’, who promised to urgently deliver a stimulus package that will ignite growth and create jobs and who announced a jobs summit.

Yet just a few days later Ramaphosa’s party and government announce that thousands more are to join the ranks of the unemployed. It makes no sense to convene a jobs summit, which like others before it offers nothing to workers, in particular the unemployed. The announcement also makes the Minister of Minerals’ condemnation of Impala’s decision to cut 13,400 jobs not only opportunistic but intellectually disingenuous.

SAFTU will need to be convinced why it must attend the jobs summit which is about pulling the wool over the workers’ eyes. The people who pretend to be working to address the catastrophic level of unemployment are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.

One side sheds crocodile tears and pretends that they care about the jobless, while the other side launches and intensifies an austerity programme which they know will not affect them but bring poverty and misery to thousands of workers left with no job and no income. These retrenchments will not only devastate those who will lose their livelihoods, but also all the millions who depend on public services, which will be even more understaffed and run down than they are already.

Gauteng Health MEC, Gwen Ramakgopa, recently told us that the provincial health department is facing a ‘critical shortage of skilled nursing personnel’. Tembisa Hospital in Gauteng only has 40% of the nurses that it requires. The Bongani Hospital in the Free State has one nephrology sister to attend to patients suffering from kidney diseases, despite health norms and standards indicating that hospitals should have nine.

The national teacher-pupil ratio is continuously getting worse. Mathanzima Hubert Mweli, Director-General at the Department Basic Education, confirmed to MPs on 17 April 2018 that there has been a decline in teachers and staff while there was an increase in learners. After these 30,000 have disappeared we can only imagine what will happen to the state’s capacity to deliver justice, health, education and municipal services. Even if it is true that some of them are presently doing unnecessary jobs, the answer is not to fire them but retrain them and redeploy them into all the areas which are in desperate need of more staff.

This outrageous announcement vindicates the view of the Working-Class Summit on 21-22 July 2018 that the false optimism which greeted Ramaphosa’s accession has disappeared. How can any South African take seriously a government and party who talk about creating jobs while at the same time destroying 30,000 of them?

The R4 billion budgeted to get rid of these workers must immediately be reallocated to employ more staff to fill all the vacancies in the public service and to start to rescue them from the total collapse into which they are already sinking, and which will get even worse after these new job losses. Ramaphosa’s, and the ANC’s neoliberal economic policies are designed solely to protect the system of monopoly capitalism that is destroying jobs, cutting living standards and creating the widest inequality in the world.

The Summit was absolutely clear that we need a mass working-class movement to fight for a society which creates employment, pays all workers a living minimum wage and abolishes poverty through a basic income grant. The exploitative capitalist system has to be replaced by a new democratic socialist order, in which the wealth created by the labour of the working class is owned, controlled and shared by the working people and not a super-rich elite.

• The South African Federation Trade Unions has noted with disgust the decision of the National Council of Provinces’ select committee on economic and business development to adopt the National Minimum Wage Bill, the Labour Relations Amendment Bill, and the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill. They were all adopted without amendment and will now go to the plenary of the NCOP for adoption and then forwarded to President Ramaphosa for his signature and enactment.

The federation is appalled, though not surprised that the African National Congress has bulldozed these bills through Parliament and ignored all the objections that SAFTU and numerous civil society organisations raised. It is even more disgusting that the Congress of South African Trade Unions has welcomed these moves to entrench poverty wages and further undermine workers’ rights as ‘an historic victory for millions of workers and their families’.

Nothing could better illustrate the degeneration of this once mighty workers’ organisation than this statement that it enthusiastically supports laws which will condemn millions of workers to live in poverty and trap its own members in bureaucratic obstacles which will make it almost impossible for them to exercise their constitutional right to strike.

SAFTU will fight harder than ever for a living wage for workers and to frustrate the bid by employers and government to render the trade unions powerless. We are now joined by 147 community and civil society organisations, who, at the Working-Class Summit on 21-22 July unanimously resolved to fight these new laws. The NMW Bill provides for a national minimum wage of R20 per hour, R18 an hour for agricultural workers, R15 for domestic workers and R11 an hour for Expanded Public Works Programme workers.

These are poverty wages on which nobody should be expected to live and which will legitimise the apartheid wage structure and widen what is already the world’s widest gap between rich and poor. This inequality was exposed dramatically by the City Press Wealth Index which showed that the top richest 50 South Africans could use their combined wealth of R329 billion to pay 1 million people the new national minimum wage for eight years!

That R329 billion is taken from the surplus value created by workers, who create enough wealth to pay their own wages within the first or two hours of working a day, while the rest goes towards their bosses’ profits and executives’ huge salaries. The poverty of the many creates the opulence of the few. As we approach the sixth anniversary of the Marikana massacre, we should remember the long strike on the platinum belt in 2012. The executives of Lonmin, all of whom earned huge salaries brought not an ounce of platinum out of the ground, yet maligned the rock-drillers for demanding a wage of R12,500 a month.

10% of the population earn more than 50% of the household income while 20% earn less that 1.5%. In 2014, the median salary was R3,400, which means that 50% of workers earn below this level The share of wages in the GDP has plummeted from 57% in 1991 to below 50% today. This minimum wage will maintain the policy designed in the apartheid and colonial eras to keep black workers as a pool of cheap labour to be exploited in the farms, mines and industries.