Government jobs are not the answer to economic growth
The Times Editorial: New research shows that the government pays its employees 34% more on average than does the private sector - and that net wages of state employees in South Africa are higher than those in wealthy countries such as Germany, Sweden and Finland.
According to the Sunday Times, trade union Uasa's 2012 Employment Report also shows that the government employs more than a fifth (22.8%) of formal-sector workers in the country.
The government's salary bill amounts to more than 12.8% of GDP, and that figure rises to more than 14.3% when salaries paid by state-owned enterprises are included.
Economist Mike Schüssler, who compiled the report, argues that the state's position as the country's predominant employer - and one that overpays many of its employees to boot - raises labour costs to the point where our competitiveness is significantly reduced.
Compounding the problem is that it is the wages of unskilled and semi-skilled workers in particular that are too high - both in the public and private sectors.
The findings are not likely to go down well with the mainstream unions, whose organising power and militancy have helped drive up wages exponentially in recent years.
It is also true, as Cosatu has repeatedly pointed out, that South Africa is possibly the most unequal society in the world, with a yawning wealth gap that has increased since the demise of apartheid.
It could thus be argued that the state, as the country's pre-eminent (and most benevolent) employer, acts as an important safety net and contributes to the stability of our young democracy.
But in the long term this is untenable.
The unions must temper their wage demands and the government must implement policies that promote employment in the private sector.
As Schüssler argues: "We cannot have more people in the government than we have people producing things."