By ANDILE NSIBANDE | 2021-04-09
GOVERNMENT is reportedly planning to cut 3 000 public servants jobs in a phased approach within a three year period. This is likely to put it in a collision course with the Public Sector Associations (PSAs). The PSAs claim this transpired in their Wednesday’s Joint Negotiations Forum (JNF) with government. It is alleged that the government negotiating team (GNT) made it clear that there will be no salary review this financial year despite what they signed for five years ago and made an order of the court. A ballooning wage bill at 35 per cent is said to be unacceptably far beyond the acceptable global standard of 24 per cent of the overall budget, a situation further worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following Wednesday meeting, PSAs are now planning their next move, which according to Swaziland National Teachers Association (SNAT) Secretary General Sikelela Dlamini is likely to be going the court route. During that bargaining process government reportedly emphasised the need to strike the balance between the salary review exercise and the financial burden it is currently facing, as also engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports are to the effect that it was during the same gathering where the government negotiating team let slip of government’s mandate to reduce the civil service by 3 000 workers in the next three years, whereby the strategy was to narrow the workforce by 1 000 individuals per financial year. It is understood that it was in that light that the government negotiating team suggested for a postponement of the salary review exercise. The PSAs said they were concerned by this decision or position taken by government on the salary review because there was a standing court order, where their employer (government) had previously committed to setting the wheel on motion on the same issue in the current financial year. Dlamini indicated that the unions were prepared to fight until the bitter end to defend the interests of their membership. He said the problem was that government hasn’t been responding favourably during their negotiations over the protracted salary review issue, hence the decision to seek recourse with the course. Dlamini indicated that the public servants unions have made it clear that they would not be taking the issue of the salary review lying down. “The court is where the issue is certainly going because there is a standing court order, and government had committed to addressing the salary reviews this year. We were really taken aback when we heard that government was not going ahead with the issue, citing financial challenges. I think the courts will have to decide on the matter,” declared Dlamini. On the issue of the concern raised by government on the huge wage bill, Dlamini said if their employer was serious about reducing the wage bill they should have prioritised getting rid of ghost employees who are said to be milking government’s coffers dry. Declined “We are aware of a 2013 report whereby it was recommended that government do something about the issue of ghost employees. This could have helped,” he said. Public Service PS Sipho Dlamini when called on the matter declined to comment on issues that are still being deliberated at the JNF. “We have a policy that we don’t discuss negotiations issues until such a time that we have reached the conclusion and we issue a statement. I cannot even at this stage violate that standing rule,” Tsabedze said. Insiders however revealed that given the current economic situation, it does not make sense to even open negotiations on a salary review because the coffers are so dry that such an exercise would be in futility. “What is the point of taking a journey from Manzini to Mbabane when you know that the fuel will not be sufficient to even reach Matsapha. If we were to engage a consultant right now, there would be likely three outcomes from the consultant report; one that we either review the salaries downwards based on our affordability levels. Or secondly that we maintain them or lastly consider reviewing them upwards but pay once you have the means to do so in the future,” the source close to the negotiations said. It is claimed the 3 000 jobs being considered to be cut-off are still far below what they require to get the balance right, but again it is a serious option that is being considered. SNAT Secretary General said instead of the lay-offs government should consider offering early retirement packages to workers already 55 years and above. He said such a scenario is amenable to workers provided it came with attractive incentives. The government source said such an option is not a solution to government because it requires enough resources to carry such an exercise as well.
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