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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Cosatu demands three-year wage freeze in government

The trade union says stop hiding behind ministerial handbook and spending on travel.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to commit to a three-year wage moratorium for public office bearers who include ministers, deputies and councillors – going further than a mere cut in perks.

Ramaphosa has instructed ministers of finance, public service and public works to review aspects of the ministerial handbook by identifying areas in the guide where perks of public office bearers can be cut.

While welcoming the move, Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla yesterday said a three-year wage moratorium would send “a good signal”.

“A wage freeze is necessary and benefits have to be overhauled,” said Pamla, describing the revision of the handbook as “long overdue”.

“The public service is very wasteful and there are plenty of areas to cut, which include unnecessary travelling, security upgrades and guards,” he said.

“There has been resistance in the past whenever we called for the review of the ministerial handbook. Due to this handbook, we have seen instances of ministers travelling to parliament in Cape Town with a group of people who included relatives – there to do nothing other than carrying bags, when the country is short of necessary resources.

“Hiding behind the ministerial handbook prescripts has led to a minister spending a whopping R700,000 on travelling with a spouse because that was within the law.”

He also referred specifically to former ministers Faith Muthambi and Malusi Gigaba – known for having flown their families at public expense, saying that “these luxuries have to go”.

Pamla called on government to introduce “a central procurement process on the purchase of vehicles for public office bearers”.

“Currently, they purchase cars as they please. They are looking at their positions as some kind of a reward. Cosatu wants allowances to be proportional to the kind of work public office bearers do – from councillor to minister level,” Pamla said.

He cautioned: “What government should not do is to tamper with workers’ wages under the guise of cutting unnecessary government expenditure.”

While it is still unclear how much government is currently spending on perks, thousands in savings are expected to be realised should the ministerial handbook be drastically revised.

Public Servants’ Association of South Africa assistant general manager Reuben Maleka said his union joined a chorus of those who advocated for substantial changes to the ministerial handbook.

“This is welcome news, given the background that on June 10 the president supported the increase in the benefits of public office bearers, which included more staff and security upgrades at their homes – costing the taxpayer a total of R300,000,” said Maleka.

Referring to the ministerial handbook during his budget speech in the National Assembly last month, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu said: “This document provides a guide for benefits for members of the executive.”

The three ministers tasked with the review, Patricia de Lille, Tito Mboweni and Mchunu, are expected to complete their task in two months and report back to Cabinet.

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