The Congress of South African Trade Unions is looking forward with optimism and expectancy to the upcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA) to be delivered by the President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa on the 11th of February 2021. The speech should set the tone for the government’s work this year, with the aim of addressing the serious challenges facing the country and also improving the lives of the struggling majority.
We anticipate an audacious and sincere statement that will reflect the policy positions of the Alliance and also outline the government’s concrete programmes to address poverty, create jobs and sort out the health crisis facing the country.
The austerity measures imposed by the government have resulted in cuts in social spending, deterioration of public services and social infrastructure, and further deterioration in the standard of living of the majority of South Africans. We expect a move away from this anti-worker and anti-poor economic framework.
We do not need new economic plans, but we need details and definitive timeframes that will speak to the implementation of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP). The thrust of the SONA needs to speak to the rapid implementation of the ERRP. The economy is in deep trouble and unemployment has surged past 50% and it’s time for less talk and swift action.
Health- The President needs to expand on the initialvaccine roll-out plan and give more details on how the government will ensure we achieve 70% immunity levels before the end of 2021. We simply cannot afford these periodical economic lockdowns any longer. We expect parliament to move with speed to pass the National Health Insurance Bill and government to lay the foundation for the National Health Insurance.
Critical vacancies in our health sector need to be filled and existing infrastructure gaps should be sorted out.
Economy Reconstruction and Recovery Plan
Economic and Social Relief Measures-Thegovernment and the banks have retreated from the initial relief measures that were provided to workers, the unemployed, businesses and sectors. Relief that needs to be extended includes:
· Unemployment Insurance Fund relief for vulnerable workers and businesses facing restrictions under the current lockdown.
· The R350 unemployment grant.
· Support for restricted and battered sectors of the economy.
· A revamped Loan Guarantee Scheme with reduced interest rates and easier payment terms to make it more affordable for struggling businesses.
· Debt relief from commercial banks for distressed consumers and businesses.
Key ERRP Commitments- Critical ERRP commitments that the SONA needs to speak to include progress with regards to:
· Ramping up local procurement– This includes public procurement for national, provincial, and local government as well as public entities and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The government needs to ensure that key private sector corporations such as those in the mining industry and other sectors buy locally manufactured goods. Proudly SA and GCIS need to encourage consumers to buy local. Organised labour is in the process of designating local procurement champions in trade union federations and affiliates as part of this effort.
· Finalising the 15 sectoral master plans, those can immediately unlock economic growth and create jobs. Progress has been made in the auto-manufacturing, poultry, clothing and textile, and sugar manufacturing master plans. Green shoots are beginning to emerge as a result. However other sector master plans remain worryingly far behind. Sectors of particular concern include renewable energy, hemp, mining, digital communications, and technology. The SONA needs to include specific interventions to urgently deal with regulatory impediments to growth in these sectors as well as provide for investments and other support mechanisms to get these sectors moving.
· Rolling out the infrastructure programme-The ERRP provides a clear infrastructure road map entailing more than 150 projects. SONA needs to indicate how far are we with regards to those that will see our ports modernised, freight rail upgraded, a decimated and vandalised Metrorail rebuilt, and water infrastructure rehabilitated and agriculture boosted.
· Providing reliable and affordable energy- COSATU’s initiated Eskom Social Compact has been adopted at Nedlac. SONA needs to update the nation on progress by government, Eskom, and business with regards to investing in new generation capacity, accelerating maintenance, eradicating corruption, and wasteful expenditure. We need a more stable and affordable electricity tariff regime conducive to industrial and economic growth. Eskom is the lifeline for this economy. There cannot be an economic recovery without an efficient and stable Eskom.
· Stabilising key State-Owned Enterprises- The prevailing chaos in most of the State-Owned Enterprises militates against the progressive developmental agenda that these SOE’s are supposed to play in the economy and in society. What is not clear is the vision for these SOEs and the road map to ensure their shift from being burdens to the state to enablers of economic growth and job creation. The state of deterioration and the collapse in the SAA Group and SA Express, Denel, Transnet, Metro Rail, SABC and the Post Office remains an albatross around the nation and is sending innocent workers into the unemployment queues.
· Mobilising financial resources.
o For the economy to grow, we need to mobilise every possible financial resource.
o This includes:
§ Progressive reprioritisation of the public budget to support economic growth.
§ Mobilising domestic and international private sector funding for impact investments in infrastructure that will spur economic growth, job creation, and provide public goods.
§ Clamping down on and aggressively recovering the approximately R150 billion lost from the fiscus to corruption and wasteful expenditure every year.
§ Recapacitating SARS to prevent the billions lost to tax and customs duties evasion and loopholes.
· Building a capacitated developmental state and fighting corruption- Covid-19 has shown the need for a well-functioning state. SONA needs to tell the nation what is being done to rebuild what were once functioning departments, municipalities, entities and SOEs. This must include:
§ Filling critical service delivery posts.
§ Dealing with incompetent political officer bearers and management.
§ Building a single, transparent, online public procurement system for the entire state.
§ Enforcing the rule of law for all, and, in particular, an unrepentant and obnoxious political elite.
§ Extending the ban on doing business with the state to national and provincial political office bearers of ruling political parties and the spouses and children of politically exposed persons. We cannot afford to continue to be tepid and hypocritical in our fight against the cancer of corruption.
Investing in Education-For the ERRP to succeed, the government needs to declare education as the priority investment area. The transition from the third to the fourth industrial revolution has resulted in job losses. Upskilling workers to save jobs is key to economic recovery. Without as skills revolution, the ERRP will fail.
COVID-19 has also reminded us of the need to build skills critically needed to drive the recovery plan and build a sustainable and resilient economy. Defunding education accelerates the creation of private schools for-profit and perpetuates apartheid separate development and inequality.
Funding of CCMA and other key State Institutions– COSATU wants the President to address the impact of governments austerity measures that are weakening key labour, as well as other state institutions such Hawks as well as the Office of the Public Protector. Specifically worrying for COSATU are the budget cuts to the CCMA. These cuts have been so severe that the CCMA is struggling to deliver on its legislated mandate. Workers are facing an onslaught from employers and a resource-starved CCMA is struggling to help thousands of frustrated workers. We demand a SONA that responds to the needs of the workers and the poor.
Land Reform -We expect the president to tell the nation how his government plans to move with speed to provide farmworkers with land and equity. The land reform issue is very central if we are to bring the more than 12 million unemployed people to the mainstream economy as a way of building an all-inclusive people’s economy.
Commitment to the Constitution and the LRA– Whilst the public service wage dispute is not a matter to be resolved through SONA, COSATU and workers expect an unequivocal statement and commitment in SONA that the government will abide by the Constitution and Labour Relations Act and respect workers’ rights to collective bargaining. The conduct of government on the wage bill over the past year is a recipe for labour market strife and instability. None of the SONA commitments will be realised if this issue is not resolved. A dissatisfied and disillusioned public service workforce will not be useful in fixing the myriad of problems facing the government.
Lastly, President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet should remember that over 12 million workers are unemployed and over 6O% of young people remain unemployed. This is exacerbated by the reality of the richest 1% that owns 42% of the country’s total wealth.
South Africa is part of the seven of the world’s 20 most unequal countries in Africa. All this means that the SONA should speak to ways of decisively restructuring and radically transforming the structure of the South African economy and diversify it away from its neo-colonial development trajectory. Business as ususl will not work.
This SONA should be about dealing with the prevailing crisis of confidence and legitimacy that the government is facing from the people.
Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson) Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794