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There are about 16 pub­lic sec­tor unions rep­re­sent­ing 1.3 mil­lion work­ers in the top two lev­els of gov­ern­ment - na­tional and provin­cial, but ex­clud­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

The bulk of the work­ers are teach­ers, po­lice of­fi­cers and health work­ers.

Teach­ers’ union Sadtu is the largest with more than 250 000 mem­bers, fol­lowed by the nonCosatu Pub­lic Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion with 212 000 mem­bers.

Cosatu’s gen­eral pub­lic ser­vice af­fil­i­ate Ne­hawu has 180 000 mem­bers, and po­lice union Popcru has about 150 000 mem­bers.


The South African gov­ern­ment em­ploys nearly 2 mil­lion peo­ple across na­tional and provin­cial de­part­ments, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and other state-owned en­ti­ties.

This colos­sal work­force now costs roughly R440 bil­lion a year – 35% of the en­tire na­tional bud­get – and has been the back­bone of house­hold in­come in the lean years since 2009.

In the core na­tional and provin­cial de­part­ments, there are roughly 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple.

De­spite com­mon­place per­cep­tions that the civil ser­vice has bal­looned out of pro­por­tion since 1994, it has re­ally only grown by 25%.

Most of that growth was in the past six years as the state has kept the cri­sis-stricken econ­omy go­ing by hir­ing and pay­ing well.

Up to 2005, the civil ser­vice was ac­tu­ally smaller than in 1994 as the fis­cal dis­ci­pline of the Growth, Em­ploy­ment and Re­dis­tri­bu­tion strat­egy years and the re­dun­dan­cies caused by merg­ing the old white state with the ban­tus­tans were elim­i­nated. deal in 2012 that guar­an­teed in­fla­tion plus 1%.

Apart from the PSCBC wage talks, the com­mis­sion of in­quiry into re­mu­ner­a­tion and con­di­tions of ser­vice in pub­lic ser­vice and pub­lic en­ti­ties is still on­go­ing.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ap­pointed the com­mis­sion in Au­gust last year. Ini­tially, it had eight months, but that has been ex­tended to April next year.

The com­mis­sion’s terms of ref­er­ence mostly re­late to crit­i­cally in­ter­ro­gat­ing the in­ef­fi­cien­cies and po­ten­tial un­sus­tain­abil­ity of the state’s wage bill.

Pub­lic sec­tor wage deals are vir­tu­ally al­ways in­fla­tion­linked, usu­ally with a rel­a­tively small per­cent­age on top of the reign­ing in­fla­tion rate.

Since the PSCBC was cre­ated in 1998, en­try-level wages in gov­ern­ment have in­creased from R19 002 to R67 806 a year (

In real terms, ad­justed for in­fla­tion, the im­prove­ment was still spec­tac­u­lar – a dou­bling of the low­est salaries and a 160% real im­prove­ment at the high (level 12) end of the scale to R743 076 to­day.

But th­ese fig­ures are mis­lead­ing be­cause the Oc­cu­pa­tional Spe­cific Dis­pen­sa­tion has in­tro­duced a mas­sive frag­men­ta­tion in salary lev­els for ev­ery spe­cific oc­cu­pa­tion.

The re­sult is that gov­ern­ment’s wage ta­bles take up almost 100 pages with salary notches pre­scribed in fi­nite de­tail for ev­ery­thing from town plan­ners and sci­en­tists to am­bu­lance driv­ers and so­cial work­ers.

The salaries in ques­tion range from R5 000 a month to more than R100 000.

see ta­ble).

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