'Overpaid' army of civil servants sucking SA dry

03 May 2015 - 02:00 By PREGA GOVENDER
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Members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union protest outside of parliament on April 24, 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union protest outside of parliament on April 24, 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image: The Times / Halden Krog

The government paid a staggering R392-billion in salaries to about 1.4million public servants in the past financial year.

The lion's share, R148-billion, was spent on teachers and other staff at state schools, while R88.7-billion went to doctors, nurses and other health workers at public health facilities.

A Treasury document reflecting the salaries paid by 43 national departments and South Africa's provincial departments showed that the next highest wage bills were for:

  • The South African Police Service: R54.3-billion;
  • The Department of Defence: R21-billion;
  • The Department of Correctional Services: R12.6-billion;
  • The Department of International Relations: R2.7-billion; and
  • The Department of Home Affairs: R2.6-billion.

The Department of Traditional Affairs spent just R50.2-million on salaries, the least among all national departments.

The state's salary bill is projected to balloon to R437-billion this year amid demands by public sector unions for a 10% salary adjustment.

According to another Treasury document, the state will be in the red to the tune of R157.4-billion if it accedes to all of the unions' wage demands.

Five provincial education departments are expected to spend more than 80% of their budgets on staff salaries next year - despite a determination by the Department of Basic Education that only up to 80% of a provincial education department's budget should be spent on salaries.


The Free State education department's salary bill, for instance, is expected to jump from 83% to 90% next year.

Some provincial education departments have been accused of "shifting funds" to pay salaries, thereby "compromising service delivery to schools and the quality of education".

An entry-level teacher with a four-year university qualification earns R16 500 a month.

About 130 000 teachers earn R17 500 while more than 90000 earn R20 000 and just under 50 000 earn R22500.

But not all civil servants fare this well.

Nyameka Khumalo, 60, an auxiliary nurse at a Gauteng hospital, takes home only R9 900 a month - after working for more than 40 years.

She said she had to cancel a life insurance policy last year because she could no longer afford to pay the R850 monthly premium.

"No bank is prepared to give my daughter a bursary or student loan. Life is so difficult. We work long hours and should be paid more," she said.

sub_head_start 'Overpaid and under-worked' sub_head_end

Dawie Roodt, chief economist at the Efficient Group, was adamant that the country's public servants were "overpaid and under-worked".

"Compared to what the rest of the economy earns and what they produce, I think they are getting too much."

Said Roodt: "If you look at how much taxpayers spend on education, bearing in mind that just about all the money goes on salaries, you will find that despite the fact we spend more, our education outcomes are not only bad, they are sometimes the worst in the world."

Servaas van der Berg, a professor of economics at Stellenbosch University, said: "I do think we have a public sector that is somewhat bloated but at the same time not badly paid given that they have more job security than what you have in the private sector."

Basil Manuel, president of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa, said the average teacher was not earning a decent salary: "Your average teacher is unable to buy a house or access quality schooling for his children."

Willie Schoeman, principal of Hoërskool Pietersburg, who has 18 years' experience as a headmaster, said those with his management experience in the private sector were earning R70 000 to R80 000 a month.


"The majority of principals of P5 schools [schools with more than 1200 pupils] earn between R40 000 and R50 000 a month before tax," he said.

Brent Simons, a spokesman for the Department of Public Service and Administration, said the government budgeted for these salaries to ensure high levels of service delivery.

A presidential remuneration review commission, headed by retired chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, will look at the sustainability of the public sector wage bill. It held its first public briefing last month.

Public sector unions are also demanding a housing allowance of R1500. The employer's original offer was a 5.8% cost-of-living adjustment and increasing the medical aid subsidy from 17.6% to 28.5% and the housing allowance from R900 to R1200.

sub_head_start The state millionaires' club sub_head_end

There were at least 306 deputy directors-general and 41 directors-generalin national government, smiling all the way to the bank, according to figures valid up to September last year. A deputy director-general's salary started at R1.2-million. A director-general could earn up to R1.7-million.

There were 1233 chief directors, with salaries from R988 152 to R1.1-million.

According to figures supplied by the Department of Public Service and Administration, the Department of Justice had three directors-general.

Co-operative governance, home affairs and rural development and land reform had two each. The police had the equivalent of 26 deputy directors-general, the most of all national departments. There were 19 deputy directors-general in the National Treasury, 16 in international relations, 14 in health, 14 in trade and industry, and 13 in performance monitoring and evaluation.

The salaries of 78 chief directors, 27 deputy directors-general and eight directors-general who had resigned or whose contracts had expired between April and August last year were not included here.

Most public servants earn more than R15000 a month, placing them in the country's top 20% of earners.

Just under 160000 civil servants earn R17500 a month, and almost 140000 of them earn R20 000.


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