COSATU statement on the President’s speech on combating COVID-19 and the growing the economy

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) notes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcements of further measures to combat Covid-19 and the progress we have made as a nation in this unprecedented battle. 

We agree with the president that this is no time to be complacent. The increasing signs of reckless behavior need to be nicked in the bud because it puts lives and the economy at risk.

 We cannot afford a second wave, which is why during the festive season South Africans need to act responsibly and not abuse alcohol. The commitment to ramp up community screening, hotspot testing, and hospital readiness is welcome. 

 While the President once again praised the sterling work done by public sector workers, it would have meant more if he had halted unwarranted attack on them by his administration. The failure to pay them their increases and the proposed wage freeze is an insult to these workers.

 We welcome the extension of the R350 long term unemployment grant.  But this should be extended beyond January and form the basis for a basic income grant.

 Whilst the Federation welcomes the belated agreement by the government to extend the UIF Covid-19 TERS from 15 September to 15 October, we take a very dim view that it took 2 months of badgering government to get the government to honour its commitment.

 The government needs to extend the UIF Covid-19 TERS for workers and workplaces that remain under government-imposed restrictions.  This includes the periods of 15 October to 15 November, and 15 November to 15 December.  The UIF has sufficient funds at R114 billion in assets, of which more than R60 billion are liquid and available. 

Clarity is needed, though, on which workers and workplaces will remain under restrictions. It is far cheaper to invest in saving jobs and companies by extending TERS than to allow thousands of companies to close and retrench millions of workers. 

 The Federation agrees with the President that the UIF cannot continue to carry the nation on its shoulders. There needs to be a combined package of relief in the form of stimulus, tax relief, and debt relief.  Banks need to provide some solidarity for embattled workers and sectors.

 The lifting of alcohol sales restrictions will provide relief for the industry.  Government and the alcohol industry need to conclude the alcohol social compact.  Industry cannot be given a blank cheque when it comes to alcohol sales. 

 The reopening of borders for tourists is welcome.  However, we need assurance from the government that it will enforce the necessary screening.  We cannot afford to import Covid-19.  The government needs to do much more to provide meaningful relief for the tourism and hospitality sectors. 

 The silence of the government and the banks on what will be done to fix the now nearly stillborn Loan Guarantee Scheme is inexplicable.  We cannot afford to walk away from one of the few potential sources of relief and stimuli for the economy.  To date, it has dispersed a mere R16 billion of the R200 billion announced seven months ago by the President.

 The agreement to locally manufacture of possible vaccine is a welcome boost to local manufacturing and jobs and to ensure that South Africans will have access to vaccines when ready.  This should be the moment to revive the long-promised state-owned pharmaceutical company.

 COSATU hopes that the government will act with the necessary speed to honour its commitments under the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. On the 3rd Investment Summit, we want to hear about plans to end the investment strike and create jobs.

The fight against corruption needs to be intensified. We need crooks and looters to be locked up. We note the recent spate of arrests and we hope they will lead to successful prosecution and lengthy sentences.

 Issued by COSATU

 Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)
Tel: 011 339 4911
Cell: 060 975 6794