Closing Remarks by COSATU President Z. Losi to COSATU’s Collective Bargaining Conference

The leadership of COSATU, Affiliates, sister Federations,

Leadership of government and labour market institutions,

Leadership of our Alliance partners, the ANC and the SACP,

Media present, and

Most importantly the rank and file membership of COSATU.

Good morning comrades,

Introductory Remarks

Comrades not so long ago many in the media, in the public discourse and even our ally the ANC, had written COSATU’s obituary.

Despite this writing us off as a thing of the past, we have proved our critics wrong time and again.

We have grown from strength to strength.  We have survived the tribulations of the past decade.  We have emerged intact from the greatest pandemic in a century.  It is this fighting Federation that made history in forcing government and business to agree to a national minimum wage.

It is this Federation that has led the fight against corruption wherever it rears its ugly head in both the private and public sectors.

It is this COSATU that stopped compulsory annuitisation and forced government to negotiate on comprehensive social security reforms at Nedlac.  It is COSATU which has now convinced Treasury to agree to our pension withdrawals proposals.

It is COSATU that has led the nation on solutions to not only saving Eskom but in fact the reconstruction and recovery of our economy.

It is COSATU which made sure that parental leave is now a law of the Republic.  It is COSATU which pushed for the massive increase in UIF and maternity leave benefits.  It is our Federation which has pushed government to release up to R60 billion from the UIF into the economy during the lockdown.

We are now seeing many unions applying to join the Federation of Elijah Barayi.  We have welcomed the farm and food workers from Afadwu, we have welcomed the National Transport Movement home.  TUMSA and the Taxi Drivers are coming.

Whilst we have made great strides against all odds comrades, the challenges we will face in the next 24 months may be the greatest ever.  Unemployment is now 52% and may see more than another million job losses in the near future.  The economy is in a deep recession and starved of stimulus.  The state, municipalities and SOEs are in a serious danger. 

Discussions Over The Past 3 Days

I will not attempt to summarise the rich and vibrant discussions over the past 3 days.  But I must confess comrade leadership how pleased I am to have heard you articulate the demands of workers in such a powerful manner.  On Zoom nogal!

Our marching orders are clear comrades.

Workers expect us to go all out to defend their constitutionally enshrined rights to collective bargaining.  This includes to government’s shame, even within the public service.

We need to rebuild all our collective bargaining councils and ensure that all workers are covered by them.  We must ensure that both public and private sector employers are made to honour agreements, including the 2020 public service wage agreement.

We must protect the wages of workers, especially the lower and middle income, from inflation.  We must ensure that employers pay the pension and medical contributions due.

We need to exercise leadership and ensure that workers’ pensions are safe and are invested in a manner that benefits workers not fund managers or politicians. 

We need one health and safety act for all workers.  Workers must be allowed the right to refuse dangerous work.

Section 189 of the LRA must be amended.  Workers must receive at least 4 weeks pay for every year served when retrenched.  Retrenchments must be an act of last resort.  The fight against retrenchments must be at the heart of all our work.

Government must extend the UIF Covid-19 TERS until December 31.  Without fail.  This is workers’ money not government’s.  If government refuses, then heads must roll in the Department.  The corruption and chaos of the UIF must be dealt with and not swept under the carpet.

All workers, including atypical workers must be placed under the UIF.  Government must pay its due and extend the protections of the UIF to public servants.

We need to defend the social wage victories we have achieved.  The R350 unemployment grant must be extended.  Government must find the money.

The achievement of a National Health Insurance must be fast tracked.

We need to defend the CCMA.  The butchering of its budget by Treasury must be halted.  The Labour Courts must be resourced if they are to be effective.

The Department of Employment and Labour must be held to account for the performance of labour inspectors.

We need to force government to fix Metro Rail and provide safe, accessible and reliable public transport.  The taxi sector must be formalised.

Our labour laws must be amended so that the gaps workers have felt during this lockdown are addressed.  This includes making retrenchments an act of last resort, protecting the lives of workers, the right to refuse dangerous work, providing for fully paid maternity leave and ensuring that the labour laws apply to all workers, especially atypical.

Our leave regime must be modernised to reflect the needs of workers, including the rights to leave for African cultural customs and traditions, and elderly care. 

The National Minimum Wage must be entrenched and enforced.  Farm, domestic and public works programme workers must be equalised to the NMW.  It must be significantly increased in the medium term.

We must revive our campaigns for a living wage and a 40 hour work.  These must no longer be slogans.

We must develop our assessments of and plans for the impact of the 4IR on each of our sectors.  We need to move with speed to ensure just transitions for all our workers.  We cannot afford to delay.  This includes ensuring that vulnerable are trained and ready for the 4IR.  We need to think how we will organise workers who will be working from home and ensure that their rights are protected.

Comrades we have led as COSATU in drafting the Eskom Social Compact.  It will soon be signed by the President and leaders of social partners, including our General Secretary, cde. Bheki Ntshalintshali.  Can we draft similar road maps for our other distressed SOEs before it is too late?  We cannot allow these workers to be abandoned.

Comrades we need to intensify our gender rights campaigns.  It cannot remain the preserve of gender committees.  The right to equal pay for equal work, the right to be protected from sexual and physical abuse, expanding maternity and the protection of LGBTQI plus workers must be at the centre of all our campaigns and work.

The Department of Labour must table Convention 190 at Parliament for ratification now!

All these progressive demands will remain precisely that comrades, unless we ramp up our organisational engines.  This must include a mass recruitment campaign, servicing members, education and training programmes, recruiting unions into COSATU. 

This must include actioning our objectives of one union one industry, one federation one country.  We must provide practical solidarity for affiliates, especially those experiencing challenges.

We must comrades actively recruit informal workers.  We must move out of our comfort zones.

Local Elections

Comrades we need to send a clear message to our ally the ANC.  Next year is local elections.  No pamphlets or tired slogan will convince workers to turn out in numbers to vote for their organisation.

Workers are tired of broken promises, corruption, retrenchments and now government’s attacks on collective bargaining.

If the ANC wants the votes of workers then it must respect workers and listen to them.  It must engage unions in good faith and stop taking them for granted.

Government must honour the 2020 wage agreement and engage unions on the next 3 year wage agreement.

Government must deal with the pandemic of corruption and wasteful expenditure that is collapsing the state and many of our SOEs.

It must deal with unemployment and build an inclusive economy.

Concluding Remarks

Comrades I have the honour of thanking you on behalf of the NOB collective of COSATU.  You have made us proud these past 3 days.

You engaged with discipline and unity.  You focused on the bread and butter challenges facing workers across the length and breadth of our nation.  You focused on clear solutions and practical proposals to improve the lives of the working class.

You have given a clear mandate.  The CEC must now tighten this progressive mandate and flesh it out into a decisive programme of action.  

Our Central Committee to assess the work done since Congress is due in September 2021.

We must go to that CC having already begun the roll out of the demands of this historic Collective Bargaining Conference.

Workers and their families are looking to us to protect them, defend their rights and improve their lives.  We dare not fail them.  I am confident that you comrades are ready for battle!