COSATU statement on the country’s move to lockdown alert level one

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has noted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to move the country to lockdown alert level one. This move to alert level one will help further reopen the economy. We hope that this will be done in a responsible manner that avoids a surge in infections. 

We remain concerned about the rush to prematurely limit various health and safety measures.  This risk exposing us to a second wave, we need to learn to live with the health and safety measures as a part of living with the new normal. 

We also remain concerned that many employers and health institutions are failing to provide workers with adequate personal Protective Equipment and ensure the safety of their workers.

It is critical for all South Africans to continue abide by the relevant health and safety measures e.g. wearing of masks, washing of hands, social distancing etc.  We cannot afford to be complacent.

We note the limited reopening of international borders. This will be a welcome boost for the struggling tourism industry; however, it is critical for government and the banks to provide real and urgent economic relief for the tourism sector. 

We welcome the extension of the UIF TERS Scheme to continue to take care of the most vulnerable workers, whose incomes have been compromised by COVID-19. However, the massive systemic crises at the UIF require serious introspection by government, especially the department of labour.

It is disappointing that the President did not announce measures to address the chaos in distributing social grants by SASSA.  SASSA has been bogged down by massive delays frustrating millions of desperate people.

The Federation also welcomes the review and adjustment of the criterion used to help companies access the R200 billion loan guarantee scheme. It is shameful that the National Treasury, the Banks, and the Reserve Bank have not been held accountable for their incompetence in managing the R200 billion Credit Guarantee Scheme.  Treasury’s lethargy and the banks’ excessive lending conditions will condemn millions to unemployment and poverty.

This review will hopefully help many companies that are on the verge of collapsing. We still demand that government assistance to private sector companies should be conditional on them stopping retrenchments. If this is not done, it will lead to a corporate welfare system.

We note the progress being made to put together a comprehensive economic recovery plan ,by social partners at Nedlac, to kickstart the economy. This will hopefully include a massive injection of new money into the economy and dedicated sectoral support for the most heavily battered parts of the economy.

COSATU remains in support of strong intervention by the state in the economy and will continue to reject the overreliance on the market economy. This view has been powerfully validated and reinforced by the latest statistics that show that the economy has declined by 51% in the second quarter. The current economic crisis is a direct result of the government’s embrace of market fundamentalism.

The current economic trends have unleashed very harsh conditions especially for the working class and the poor. We expect the government’s measures for economic reopening and support to adopt a job-intensive approach, backed by stronger employment policies. Public and private sector co-ordination on stimulus packages and debt relief measures is critical in delivering an effective and sustainable recovery.

We need a plan to deal with imploding SOEs. COSATU also demands an aggressive intervention by the government to help workers and consumers sinking under the mountain of debt. The South African Reserve announced last year that 75% of households’ income is spent on debt. This is worrying for an economy where consumer spending contributes 60% to it.

The issue of debt was already an albatross that was weighing this country’s economy down even before the outbreak of COVID-19. The government cannot solve the country’s economic problems without addressing the problem of personal debt. This to a certain extent was caused by reckless lending and high-interest rates by the banks and the Reserve Bank.

We note the progress report on fighting corruption, but we shall judge the government on the results and not its intentions. Success in the fight against corruption should mean that profiteering by corporations and looting by politically connected individuals is dealt with and criminals are locked up.

In the age of rapid technological development and advancement, we also need an urgent jobs-plan to ensure that the pandemic is not used opportunistically to replace workers with machines. Some of the ongoing retrenchments are unjustifiable.

Lastly, a positive trend in declining Covid-19 infection rates and the increasing recovery rates is a testimony to the hard work of the frontline workers, who have heroically carried the nation on their backs. It is about time that they are given the money that was illegally taken from them.

COSATU finds it unacceptable that five years ago the Federation was fighting the Free Market Foundation in its attempt to undermine Collective Bargaining, in courts, but today the offensive against collective bargaining is being led by the ANC government. Government needs to fix this and fix it fast.

Issued by COSATU

 Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794