More, not fewer public servants needed – SAFTU

Federation says shortage of skilled staff sums up everything that is wrong in country

SAFTU demands more, not fewer public servants

27 June 2018

The South African Federation of Trade Unions is shocked by the disclosure by Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa that the provincial health department is facing a “critical shortage of skilled nursing personnel”, and the report that a circular to hospitals has directed them to fill only 50% of vacant funded posts occupied by retired, resigned and deceased nursing staff.

This story sums up everything that is wrong with South African society. At a time when 8.7 million people are unemployed, and the unemployment rate among young people aged 15–34, by the expanded figure, is a staggering 63.8%, there is a “critical shortage” of workers in a vital public service. 

On the same day Gauteng department of roads and transport spokeswoman, Melitah Madiba, confirmed that 507 vacant and unfunded posts had been abolished as they were in excess of requirements, and said the posts had not been filled in the last five years.

These two stories explode the argument by that South Africa’ public service is “bloated” and make even more outrageous the statement by the then Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in his October 2017 medium-term budget policy statement that the Treasury is looking at a reduction of about 25,000 public servants over the next three years.

The ANC government has is priorities totally skewed. It is obsessed with placating the credit-rating agencies and their big business clients who demand austerity measures to cut public spending at a time when South Africans are crying out for more spending and more staff to improve the appalling level of service in all areas of society.

The Esidimeni scandal in which at least 144 mentally ill patients were left to die as a result of budget cuts and a lack of staff should have been a wake-up call to shock government into employing more qualified nurses and carers. But nothing has changed as this admission by Ramokgopa proves.

She is reported to have revealed at a nurses’ seminar that the health department is operating on a staff establishment based on the provincial population of 2006, when there were 4.8 million fewer people. The number of nursing posts was based on a population of 9.5 million in 2006, but that population had “grown to an estimated 14.278 million over the past 12 years without any upward adjustment”.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has himself admitted that the public health system was seriously “distressed”‚ with shortages of medical and nursing staff in state hospitals and a huge number of sick patients with HIV‚ diabetes‚ TB or cancer.

It is not just in health that there is a desperate need of more, not fewer public servants. As at June 2017, SouthAfrica had a total of 15,888 teacher vacancies, and has more than 5,000 under-qualified or unqualified teachers which it cannot eliminate because of a tremendous shortage of qualified teachers.

All other public services face similar problems and are the reason why so many communities have been protesting, often violently, at the abysmal level of service provision.

The government tries to blame all these problems on the crisis in the economy, and pressure from credit ratings agencies and big business to cut public spending, especially on workers’ wages, and argue that there is no money available to fill these posts and provide propers services.

This ignores the fact that the main reasons for the economic crisis include dysfunctional services, especially in key areas like education, health and transport infrastructure and the high levels of unemployment. 

How can the economy grow when 10,3 million 15-24 year-olds are not employed, not in education or training and excluded from playing any part in the country’s economic life?

Transforming the country’s social infrastructure has to be one of the key components of a new strategy for economic  growth. Money must be made available, and it can be made available by adopting policies which SAFTU has called for, including:

1 The introduction of a wealth tax 

2 The introduction of a solidarity tax 

3 The review of the corporate taxes that were around 45% during the apartheid era but driven down to around 28% during the era of democracy. 

4 The reviewal of the personal income tax to ensure that those who can pay more make more contributions to the fiscus 

5 Capping the salaries of those earning grotesque amounts not through declaration of intent but practically 

6 The full implementation of the Freedom Charter’s clauses 3 and 4 on land and sharing of the economy 

At the heart of the crisis is the overall capitalist mode of production and the theft of the surplus wealth created by the workers by a super-rich capitalist elite, who then refuse to reinvest that surplus in productive, job-creating businesses and vital public services but spirit it away into tax havens through illicit capital transfers. 

Unless these structural deficiencies are addressed we are going to see even higher unemployment, poverty and inequality and even worse levels of service delivery in vital public institutions. 

This is why SAFTU is building a network with grassroots organsiations to fight back against the neoliberal attacks by monopoly capital and the ANC government, the VAT increase and e-tolls and for free education at all levels, proper service delivery and free healthcare under a proper funded national health insurance scheme. 

SAFTU is calling on all formations of the working class to attend the Working-Class Summit on 21-22 July to unite civil society formations, employed and unemployed workers, those in the informal sector and in more secure work, the students and the landless, the homeless and those fighting against the water crisis and the scourge of violence against women and children, into a struggle for a truly free, democratic and equal society.

We call on all those interested in participating in a such conference to contact us.

Issued by Patrick Craven, SAFTU Acting Spokesperson, 27 June 2018