The South African Democratic Teachers' Union, the largest union in the education sector, has met the 2018 Medium Term Budget statement with caution. The Union welcomes the fact that the Statement continues to prioritise education, health, social and community development, However, it has brought unease to our members who are public servants.
Delivering the budget statement in Parliament, Minister Mboweni left us unsettled when he announced that the 2018 public service wage agreement exceeds budgeted baselines by R30,2 billion and they have not allocated additional money for this.
He said the wage bill remained the biggest cost pressure on the budget. "We must choose to reduce the structural deficit, especially the consistently high growth in the real public sector wage bill," Mboweni said.
However, he did not give clarity as to how he would reduce this structural deficit, causing us to deduce that the many vacant posts in the sector will remain unfilled leading to over-burdening teachers who are overworked and teaching crowded classrooms.
Noting the Minister's sentiments on the public sector wage bill, it is our strong view that whatever interventions the government come up with, they must not amount to the implementation of austerity measures through the back door. We note the government's urgency to appease the ratings agencies with the public sector wage bill being viewed as the lowest hanging fruit.
Our reality however is that we are trying to build a truly developmental state that can serve the people adequately. A critical part of the solution will be strengthened and motivated public servants who will not be overburdened but exposed to conducive conditions of service
We hope the Budget speech, which is more than four months away in February, will shed more light on the matter.
We commend the Government's commitment to ensuring safe learning environments and eradicating pit latrines in schools. Our children have, for far too long, been exposed to unsafe and unhygienic conditions while accessing their basic right to education.
We welcome the Minister's announcement that sanitary towels will be provided in schools for free as from 1 March, 2019. However, this project which is meant to preserve the dignity of millions of girl learners, has been mismanaged in some provinces like in KwaZulu-Natal where we saw an oversupply due to disregard of basic supply chain management rules. There were cases where both boys and girls received the sanitary pads in primary as well as secondary schools.
We would like to urge Government to apply stricter adherence to rules and regulations in order to ensure that this project does not become another wasteful expenditure.
Further, we call upon the Minister, as he seeks to play what is clearly a difficult balancing act, to ensure that SARS strengthens its capacity to locate and decisively punish the super-rich individuals and companies that evade tax. In our view, that element did not come out as clearly as we would have hoped in the Statement.