Public service packages 'will cost SA dearly'
Loss of skills and experience will be felt, say unions
The move to save billions of rands by the end of March 2021 by cutting the government's bloated wage bill could cost SA dearly in loss of skilled personnel and institutional knowledge, unions say.
Teachers, police officers, prison officials, nurses and members of the SA National Defence Force and intelligence services who are aged 55 to 59 can apply for early retirement from next month until the end of September.
The department of public service & administration said 136,833 public servants were in this age group. This includes 54,460 teachers, 14,043 nurses, 9,630 police officers, 2,325 members of correctional services, 745 doctors and 97 engineers.
A seasoned police detective, who has solved dozens of murder cases during his more than 30 years of service, is planning to quit because of the heavy workload.
He asked to remain anonymous as he did not want to compromise his application.
The policeman, from Dundee in northern KwaZulu-Natal, said 12 to 14 other detectives, who are over the age of 55 and based at police stations in Greytown, Pomeroy, Glencoe and Dundee, were also planning to throw in the towel.
The 59-year-old headmaster of a high school in Durban with 37 years' experience in teaching has become so disillusioned with his staff he is also considering leaving.
"Teachers show no dedication and commitment," he said.
The two are among thousands of public servants expected to take up the government's offer of voluntary early retirement, sparking fears that it could cause huge staff shortages across the public sector.
The move, aimed at reducing the government's bloated wage bill, is expected to result in savings of about R20.3bn between now and March 2021.
Richard Mamabolo, spokesperson for the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, said offering early retirement packages to police and correctional services members was going to worsen the staff shortage.
"The prison population is increasing but the staff complement has declined," he said.
The departure of seasoned policemen would result in a loss of experience, he added.
Sibongiseni Delihlazo, spokesperson for the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA, said it took years to replace nurses who leave.
"It has become normal to find about two nurses in a ward of more than 40 patients. Everybody wants an opportunity to have access to their retirement savings to solve their problems, and offering a person a package is very tempting," said Delihlazo.
The SA Democratic Teachers' Union said removing older public servants who have invaluable experience "will deplete the intellectual capital of the public service".
Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said a lot of money had been spent by education departments on developing teachers and "all of this will just go down the drain".
The president of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA, Nkosiphendule Ntantala, feared the offer would result in an "exodus" of experienced teachers.
Describing early retirements as an "ill-considered strategy", Mary Metcalfe, an associate professor of education at the University of Johannesburg, said: "The collective professional experience is irreplaceable both in the classroom, on school management teams, and among office-based educators. New entrants will bring value but gaining professional confidence often takes years."
However, Professor Martin Gustafsson, an education economist at Stellenbosch University, said the schooling system has been able to meet the rise in retiring teachers with an equivalent rise in the intake of new teachers.
Mava Scott, spokesperson for public service & administration minister Ayanda Dlodlo, said service delivery would not be affected as the government would ensure the process was done in "a balanced and responsible manner".
Not all applicants will be granted early retirement and the government "will ensure that those with critical skills such as medical doctors, nurses, maths and science teachers, engineers and other professionals are not lost"...