“Their jobs are secure, no policy or directive to retrench public sector employees has been implemented.”
FINANCE Minister Enoch Godongwana has denied that government is using the financial crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic to reduce the headcount in the public service.
Godongwana 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 a number of labour 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, who replaced Tito Mboweni earlier this month following a Cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa, 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 actually increased in 2020 compared to 2019 by just under 9,000 (i.e. about 0.6%) and salaries have been maintained at levels in excess of comparable economies around the world,” insisted the minister.
Godongwana continued: “In the current case there is clear evidence of the fact that the Covid-19 fiscal crisis is not being used as a basis for reducing the headcount of public servants.”
The minister was responding to the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), which has asked to be admitted as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the labour unions’ 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.
The 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.
The centre also cautioned the Constitutional Court against being swayed by political ideologies in its determination of the salary dispute between the government and its employees when it hears the matter, later this month.
Godongwana opposes the AIDC’s application because it was filed late.
”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 Office of the State Attorney, there is no factual basis being advanced for the allegations contained in the AIDC’s affidavit.
”Coherent ideological arguments of the sort contended for by the AIDC (to the extent that they are justiciable) would require – at minimum – extensive evidence about the rationale underpinning the government’s chosen policy agenda,” the office explained.
The government maintains that the AIDC’s assertions are contrary to the apex court’s established case law regarding the separation of powers and issues of economic and fiscal affairs, which fall within the heartland of the executive authority’s exercise of its constitutional competence.
“Fiscal policy is within the exclusive province of the executive. It is not for the courts to remodel the executive’s chosen fiscal policy agenda under the guise of just and equitable relief,” the state attorney explained, adding that the centre’s submissions were so fundamentally flawed that they rendered it unhelpful to the court.