Government workers salaries surge from R170bn to R694bn in 14 years

Johannesburg – Salaries paid to government workers have surged from R170-billion in 2004/05 to R694-billion in 2018/19, outstripping inflation.

This information is contained in a report compiled by Statistics SA, which perused financial data from all 708 institutions in government.

The report provides an overview of what the government spent money on in 2018/19, with focus on the public service wage bill.


“The rise in remuneration, which has had the most impact, was driven by three main factors: the introduction of occupation-specific dispensations [once-off salary increases for skilled staff ] near the end of the 2000s; the addition of annual cost-of-living adjustments to basic pay; and wage progression within ranks and promotion between ranks, which have, on average, pushed up civil service remuneration by one full rank over time,” reads the report.

The National Treasury has identified two drivers behind the rise in compensation spending: an increase in the number of personnel numbers and a rise in remuneration. The government has proposed that public service wage increases be frozen for the next three years.

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Mathew Parks, Cosatu’s parliamentary coordinator, said the government needs to engage in good faith with public servants on the next three-year wage agreement.

“It must honour the existing wage agreement, which is the lowest in a decade. The state’s hypocrisy in praising public servants for carrying the nation on their shoulders during the lockdown and then wanting to dump the bill for politicians’ mismanaging the state on them is contemptuous,” Parks said. In total, the government spent R1.79-trillion in 2018/19, according to the latest financial statistics of consolidated general government statistical release.

The data also lays bare the dire debt trap the country finds itself in.

“For every R10 of total government spending in 2018/19, R1 was used on debt payments, including interest payments on debt. This was more than what was spent on either housing, hospitals, tertiary education or police.”

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has said the government borrows R2.1-billion a day. Tertius Troost, tax manager at Mazars said South Africa’s reliance on debt is unsustainable and may tip it into a debt trap.

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