Mboweni's new labour Bill could bust the Budget
Ministers fear that the rules will increase payroll costs in the public service, writes CAROL PATON
A source close to the Department of Finance said that imposing the Bill on the public service would break the Budget.
"The Budget is already cut to the bone. Anything that increases the cost of employment is a non-starter. You would have to have a way out for the government," said the source.
The Employment Bill - formerly known as the Employment Standards Bill - will be put before cabinet on April 16.
The Bill has already been criticised by employers for increasing payroll costs - some estimate by as much as 20%.
Employers have promised strong resistance to the proposals although the trade unions are embarking on mass action to see the Bill through.
Ministers are, however, hoping to bargain their way out of the proposed law after assessing the cost implications for their departments.
Although the Bill has not yet been published, it is likely to have the following proposals:
Because the public service was not covered by the previous minimum standards law, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, it will now be obliged to pay double for Sunday work, a provision which previously applied to the private sector only.
The public service will also be affected by new obligations to pay employees who have resigned for leave not taken in their last year of employment. Under present legislation, leave for public servants is considered a privilege and departing employees are not paid out.
The two government departments whose budgets would rocket if the provisions were implemented are the police and health services.
Police do not receive extra pay for most overtime work except in the case of special projects while nurses are compensated for overtime by extra days off. Neither are paid double for Sunday work.
At a meeting convened by the department of labour this week, government departments expressed their anxiety over the Bill.
A departmental official said that in theory it would be possible for the government to negotiate its way out of unaffordable provisions by making collective agreements with employees in the public service bargaining chambers.
However, the implications would be huge if government failed, he said.
The phasing in of provisions - for instance overtime pay for police - by attaching special schedules to the Bill is also being considered. Similar arrangements for agriculture and mining have been mooted.
"We can't insist on standards in the private sector without taking them on board ourselves. Departments will have to re-prioritise their spending," said the spokesman.
Labour Minister Tito Mboweni dismissed claims that the Bill would break the Budget. He said the public service would be accommodated by the Bill through collective bargaining and special schedules. He said that Public Service Minister Zola Skweyiya had agreed the Bill should apply to the public service.
The affordability of the Bill for the public service is certain to be an issue when it goes before cabinet on April 16.
If approved, the Bill will face another hurdle as labour, business and government sit down for the last time to hammer out a mutually acceptable deal in the labour market chamber of the National Economic Development and Labour Council.
The Nedlac negotiating process, which began in May last year, has thus far failed to produce consensus and has given rise to the threat of a general strike on May 12 by Cosatu.
However, Mboweni believes that the time is ripe for an agreement to be struck.
The main objection to the Bill in business circles is the effect on the cost of employment.
Business South Africa negotiator Adrian du Plessis says: "The Bill is far-reaching. It raises labour standards and extends them to all classes of employment. The effect is to raise unit labour costs throughout the labour market.
"Raising unit labour costs without sustained improvements in productivity will be at the expense of jobs.
"The price of getting labour market reform wrong will be visited on every workplace, both private and public. We can't afford mistakes and we will need to reach the broadest possible consensus on this Bill. It can't be imposed."
Labour and business still appear poles apart with labour insisting that ANC election promises made to introduce a 40-hour week are honoured.