Labour: No threat to public sector jobs, Minister tells court

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has denied the government is using the financial crisis caused by Covid-19 to reduce the headcount in the public service. According to a Weekend Argus report, he has told the Constitutional Court that the public servants’ claim is inconsistent with the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, the rule of law, the principle of legality, the doctrine of separation of powers, and competing claims to scarce fiscal resources during the Covid-19 circumstances. The apex court will hear arguments in an application for leave to appeal by several unions representing government employees challenging the Labour Appeal Court’s December 2020 judgment that found the last leg of the three-year wage deal signed in 2018 unlawful and unconstitutional.

Godongwana maintained that despite many jobs being lost and workers making sacrifices in the private sector, public servants have not suffered the same fate. ‘Their jobs are secure; no policy or directive to retrench public sector employees has been implemented. In fact, the number of public servants increased in 2020 compared to 2019 by just under 9 000 (about 0.6%), and salaries have been maintained at levels in excess of comparable economies around the world,’ insisted the Minister.

Godongwana was responding to the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), which has asked to be admitted as amicus curiae in the union’s application for leave to appeal. ‘Any notion that public servants should not earn a decent wage is entirely alien to the government’s approach to this matter,’ Godongwana explained, notes the Weekend Argus report. The Cape Town-based AIDC has indicated that it is considering bringing litigation to challenge the constitutionality of what it described as the Ramaphosa administration’s neo-liberal austerity measures. Godongwana opposes the AIDC’s application because it was filed late. ‘The AIDC’s proposed arguments are unhelpful in that its deponent is not qualified to make averments on the expert economic and fiscal issues attempted to be raised,’ wrote the Office of the State Attorney, which is representing Godongwana. According to the State Attorney, there is no factual basis being advanced for the allegations contained in the AIDC’s affidavit.

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