Public Service Commission Reports: briefing

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PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SERVICE AND ADMINISTRATION

PUBLIC SERVICE AND ADMINISTRATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
1 June 2005
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION REPORTS: BRIEFING

Chairperson
: Mr J Gomomo (ANC)

Documents handed out
Report on the Causes and Effects of Mobility amongst Senior Management Service and Professional Staff in the Public Service.
Report on Dispute Resolution Mechanisms in the Public Service 2003.
Report on Investigation into the Re-Employment of Persons Retired due to ill-health.
Report on the Abilities of Departments To Deal With Devolved Authority Regarding Remuneration and Conditions of Service.

SUMMARY
The Public Service Commission (PSC) briefed the Committee on the findings of four different studies into the public service. The findings provided Members with more insight into mobility, retention, overtime, salary progression and re-employment after retirement problems in the public sector. The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) had taken well-informed intervention measures with the help of the Commission to address these problems.

Members’ concerns included the measures taken to ensure that senior staff members were innovative; to address the high mobility of skilled personnel at provincial level; and to monitor overtime. Members were also uncertain whether staff mobility was negative or positive and questioned why there was no clear-cut career path for civil servants.

MINUTES

Report on Devolved Authority regarding Remuneration and Conditions of Service
Mr A Simpson, Deputy Director-General, reported that the departments were expected to develop policies on various resource-related matters previously covered by National policies as from 1 July 1999. The findings of the report on devolved authority regarding overtime included the fact that most of the Departments had not implemented overtime policies. Recommendations on overtime included procedures to obtain approval for compensated overtime. Control measures, which included keeping registers and claims for overtime compensation, were also recommended. Devolved authority on the awarding of salaries had provided for flexibility on appointment and promotion of personnel. Reasons had to be recorded on why the salary indicated by the job weight was insufficient. The findings had indicated that reasons included the retention of persons whose services might have been lost. The awarding of higher salaries would go a long way in retaining Affirmative Action candidates in scarce skills areas. Most Departments did not have the capacity to implement the recommendations and the lengthy negotiation process.

Report on Mobility among Senior Managers and Professional Staff
Mr J Ernstzen, Deputy Chairperson, reported to the Committee that at the time of the study there was a significant level of internal and external mobility of managers at the national level compared to the provincial level. Reasons cited were higher and better positions and the limited development of retention strategies. Lack of job security and career pathing and the recognition of specialised scarce skills were some of the findings of the report. The report then recommended that Departments should allow far more flexibility and improve staff retention through career pathing.

Report on Dispute Resolution Mechanisms
Mr Simpson informed the Committee that the goal of the project was to evaluate whether employees referred their grievances to the PSC or whether they utilised mechanisms provided by the Labour Relations Act and Resolution 5 of 2000. The findings included that the PSC Grievance Procedures worked for most Departments was evidenced by the higher rate of finalised cases. The grievance procedure was clear to most employees and was the preferred method because a neutral outsider was used. Recommendations included changes to the Persal system to enhance the record-keeping and data capturing of grievances. New measures would be introduced to encourage managers to handle grievances according to rules. There had been greater co-operation by all departments in referrals to enable the PSC to speedily consider grievances.

Investigation into the Re-employment of Persons Retired due to Ill-health.
Mr J Ernstzen reported that the investigation stemmed from the reported incidents of re-employment of former employees discharged due to ill health by the SA Police Services. The phenomenon extended to the Health, Education and Correctional Services Departments. Nothing in the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) rules prevented employees from retiring due to ill health. The findings of the study revealed that illnesses resulted in larger costs of health benefits. The Departments and regions did not follow a systematic approach to all ill health retirement cases. There was inappropriate use of ill health retirement provisions. Recommendations, which had emanated from the investigation, included a need for greater focus on workplace health and safety. Departments should improve the management of stress-related illnesses. The report also recommended greater use of redeployment.

Discussion

Ms H Mgabadeli (ANC) asked what had been done to ensure that public servants were more innovative. Furthermore, she enquired whether senior management was innovative enough.

Mr Ernstzen replied that there was a general lack of innovation within senior management echelons, but no conclusive research had been done on the issue. Before 1996, the structure of the public service was highly hierarchical and centralised, but after that, more delegation had been introduced. With delegation came innovation, and the Commission had to investigate how innovation was practised. There was a need for over-arching communication and methodology that would deal with innovation.

Dr U Roopnarian (IFP) enquired about the difference between mobility and deployment because in the reports, those concepts had been used interchangeably. The report had not touched on future skills development. She enquired whether all Departments had recruitment and retention policies.

Mr Simpson replied that the Commission had developed a toolkit on recruitment and selection, which had been made available and would assist departments in the development of their policies. The introduction of the Performance Agreement System (PAS) by the Minister of Public Service and Administration, had made provision for a personal development plan. When a Senior Manager was appointed to a post, he had to sign a performance agreement in consultation with a supervisor. They agreed that the newly appointed manager had to perform according to certain standards. The system had been introduced to middle management.

Mr Ernstzen replied that the government would have to work more with Universities and devise workable plans for future career pathing.

Mr Ntuli (DA) asked what the Commission could do to fast-track experienced teachers who had limited opportunities to become school principals. Career pathing should be strengthened in the education and health sector. Were there any performance benchmarks for teachers so that they were in line for promotion?

Mr Simpson replied that the Government had introduced a new salary grading system to allow for some measure of upward mobility in terms of salary progression. Job descriptions should include issues such as the requirements to enable a person to progress to a higher level. That would include the learning indicators and knowledge indicators required.

Mr K Minnie (DA) said that there was a significant difference in the staff mobility of provincial and national Departments. He asked what was being done to retain the experienced provincial public servants because South Africa was losing 49% of its professionals at the provincial level.

Mr Ernstzen stated that the Department of Health had a scarce skills allowance for doctors and certain categories of nurses, in order to attract skilled health personnel to the rural areas. Mr Simpson replied that all-inclusive packages and increased salary progression had been introduced for senior and middle managers and professionals.

Mr M Baloyi (ANC) asked whether the Commission could quantify staff mobility as being positive or negative.

Dr N Maharaj, Commissioner, Western Cape, replied that it was difficult to measure the cost of mobility. Every time a post became vacant, the government spent huge amounts of money on newspaper recruitment advertisements and the short-listing of candidates. The costs of interviewing were high because sometimes people had to be flown in for the interviews. Every time a person left the public service, service delivery was adversely affected. It took a whole year for a new person to be inducted. The government lost 20 000 people every year due to mobility, but this was a global phenomenon.

Mr Ernstzen replied that mobility was not altogether a bad thing. For example, he had had seven secretaries in the space of five years, because he encouraged them to study further and move up the corporate ladder. The improvement of an individual contributed to the improvement of the organisation.

Mr Minnie asked the current figure of provincial departments that had implemented overtime policies. Apparently only 21 out of 80 provincial departments had done so. Who was responsible for the awarding of high salaries on appointment?

Mr Simpson replied that the Commission did not have updated figures on departments that had implemented the integrated overtime policies or policies on the awarding of high salaries. The awarding of higher salaries was not regulated by the public service regulations. They were merely looking at promoting good practice and good governance. The recommendations of the Commission and DPSA would ensure that there was a much higher level of development in the latter regard.

M N Gcwabaza (ANC) asked for clarity on the standardisation of salary payments and pay progression.

Mr Simpson replied that the public service regulations provided a clear framework within which Departments could operate and "it was not a question of giving departments carte blanche". The policy framework provided for an accountability framework within which decisions had to be taken. This applied, for instance, to the calculation of merit awards.

The methodology for pay progression was based on good performance. In the case of senior managers, pay progression was considered every two years, and for lower levels every year.

Mr Minnie asked why only three Departments had responded to the recommendations of the Public Service Commission.

Mr Simpson replied that the figures would in future be much higher because of an integrated Provincial Support Programme that the Department had put in place, which aimed to assist provincial departments with the implementation of the public service regulations. The Offices of Provincial Premiers had been assisting provincial departments to implement the recommendations of the Commission.

Mr Ntuli asked why only 25% of departments had implemented the new overtime system. That would adversely affect service delivery because there was much work to be done on the ground. He asked what would be done to enhance delivery.

Dr R Mgijima, Gauteng Commissioner, said that before 1999, all salaries of civil servants had been determined centrally. Staff who wanted to increase service delivery should be given a measure of leeway to adapt the policy within established norms and standards. For example, if a epartment wanted to recruit someone from the private sector who was earning a higher salary than provided for in the regulations, they should be able to offer that person more to attract the necessary skills. The reports had highlighted the importance of striking a balance between centralising all activities and devolving responsibility. This would allow for an innovative system that would allow growth, development and service delivery.

Mr Gcwabaza enquired about the measures taken to monitor overtime, because it was open to abuse.

Mr Simpson replied that the Department procedures provided for delegated authorities who could approve overtime, and there were procedures to obtain approval for overtime. All overtime was audited and therefore all of the requirements had to be in place before overtime could be awarded.

Mr Ernstzen commented that when the departments had heard that the Commission was coming to evaluate them, "they tore their hair out, and said they were dying of paper fatigue and filing information''. They generally felt that they had higher priorities. The Commission had discovered that civil servants were less enthusiastic about providing the same information a second time around. The Commission was unable to provide information ‘at the snap of a finger ‘because of these logistical problems.

The Chairperson commented that many staff were not aware of the programmes of the Commission. This applied to politicians as well. He cited an example of community participation forums held by politicians in Cuba.

Mr Ernstzen replied that the Commission had been devising a communications strategy to inform the public about its role.

Ms Mgabadeli asked why people who relied on traditional healers were not regarded as having provided a doctor's certificate, because they did not have a "Western" medical certificate.

Mr Gcwabaza commented that there had been very little interaction between the Department and Medical Practitioners. He asked whether the people who had retired due to ill-health had been re-employed as temporary or permanent workers.

Mr Ernstzen replied that the re-employment practice was unethical because ‘a person retired due to ill health the one day, and the next day was re-employed because they were deemed fit for work’. The rule was being tightened up, but there were still some problems.

Dr U Roopnarian (IFP) suspected that the people who had resigned due to ill-heath were probably using the same medical practitioners. These people reported similar conditions; they worked for the same Departments; used the same wording and just changed the personal details of the applicant. She then asked whether anything had really changed at all.

Mr Ernstzen replied that the report had emanated from a request by the SA Police Services. The Commission had investigated and had put a stop to the practice.

Mr Simpson said that the majority of problems would be addressed by the policy implemented by the Minister. It provided for the appointment of an internal health risk manager where previous decisions were made by the head of department based on the recommendation of an external health risk manager. The Department’s Health Risk Manager would have to verify the medical certificates and recommend further action by the employer in relation to the health management programme. The Health Risk Manager would then recommend employees to the health risk panel for possible early retirement when such employees were too ill to work. The panel would forward the recommendation to the Head of Department. The process had been piloted. They were already reaping benefits as people were withdrawing their applications and new applications had dropped by a third.

The meeting was adjourned.


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