NEWS & ANALYSIS

COSATU opposed to govt's alleged retrenchment plans

Federation says SA currently has only 1,3m public servants servicing a population of 52m people

COSATU statement on the allegations that government is planning to retrench more than 30 000 workers

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has noted the reports that government is planning to retrench more than 30 000 public service employees in the next two years. This is very alarming considering that of the 36 million people in the working-age population, 27.5% are officially unemployed. The federation hopes that this report is not true because this matter has not been discussed with unions and also it does not make any sense. We have a real unemployment of 37% and more people are dependent on government for their services because of unemployment, inequality and poverty in the country.

South Africa's unemployment crisis is the worst in the world and we have even surpassed Greece, whose economy imploded a few years back and has since been hamstrung by global and European financial institutions.

The honest reality is that the South African public service actually shrank by one hundred thousand employees since 1994. After the TBVC states were incorporated into the South African apartheid state in 1994 , there were about 1,4 million public servants servicing a population of 40,1 million people. That number shrunk in 1996 to 960 000 after the introduction of GEAR. Currently we have about 1,3 million public servants servicing a population of 52 million people.

The imposition of GEAR in the mid-1990s meant that the necessary reform of the Apartheid public sector would take place along the lines of the so-called New Public Management – in which GEAR set the overarching Neoliberal framework.

Thus, the monumental twin tasks of integration and transformation of the Apartheid state, inclusive of satellite Bantustans, unfortunately took place at the height of Neoliberalism. Hence, the ideas of the New Public Management were reflected in the extreme attention paid to the reduction of the head-count of personnel in the public service and in the manner in which the parastatals were commercialised and in their mode of governance. To this day, the South African public service has not recovered from the massive “rationalisation” that took place under Cde Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the then Minister of Public Service and Administration (1999–2008) leading to the loss of scarce expertise and experience. 

The New Public Management represents a right-wing ideological model of the public sector that seeks to change the public service and parastatals to operate along the lines of the private sector. It introduces private-sector practices such as public-private-partnerships, outsourcing, agencification, privatisation, etc. It seeks to curb spending on personnel salaries which it sees as consumption (therefore wasteful) rather than investment, hence it promotes the containment of the public service wage-bill.

If these rumours of government retrenchments are true, then this will be a betrayal of the workers by the ANC government. The 2014 Manifesto states that “to reduce reliance on outsourcing, we will enhance the capacity of the state to directly provide goods and services.” This decision to retrench will be an abandonment of that commitment and will not represent what we considered to be a departure from the Neoliberal logic of the New Public Management that was promised by the Manifesto.

COSATU has been calling for a high level jobs summit to discuss the ongoing job losses that have affected all the major sectors of the economy. If these rumours of government retrenchments are true, then COSATU will pull out of that Job Summit and will take the fight to the streets.

The federation will be convening a two day Special CEC meeting starting on Monday next week and this issue will be part of the agenda and we will communicate our way forward on Wednesday next week.

Statement issued by COSATU, 10 August 2018