Public service employment and job creation in South Africa

by HASSEN, E-K & ALTMAN, M, 2005
Research Report. Centre for Poverty Employment and Growth, Human Sciences Research Council

The public service is a significant source of employment in South Africa, accounting for about 13% of formal employment. Until recently, it played a diminishing role, dampening employment growth in the economy. What should its role be in employment creation? This is particularly important in the context of high structural unemployment and serious racial bias in the labour market. The paper provides scenarios for future levels of employment in the public service until 2012/13. The proposals for expanding the public service aim to strengthen the link between efficiency (e.g. improved service delivery) and equity (e.g. employment for lower-skilled workers). It addresses a defining challenge: government needs to play a role in direct job creation, but the economic downturn will reduce its fiscal space. Consequently, proposals for expanding the public service need to provide strong evidence of improving equity and efficiency. The policy argument for expanding the public service is also improved when linked into government’s performance targets, providing a transparent mechanism to track performance. The paper starts by discussing the appropriate size of the public service. It then reviews its size between 1995 and 2008, and analyses its skills composition, affirmative action and remuneration. These trends are explained with reference to budgets, collective bargaining and the public service reform project. Finally, the paper assesses policy options that together could be termed a ‘national public employment programme.