The Congress of South African Trade Unions wishes all its members and the workers in general a restful and happy holiday season followed by a fruitful and happy new year. We wish all of them safe travelling on trains, planes and on the roads all across the country. We urge them to take COVID-19 seriously and adhere to all the necessary guidelines and protocols to curb the spread of the deadly virus. We also caution them against engaging in alcohol abuse and unnecessary expenditure during this festive period.
The year 2020 has been a very difficult year for the workers and South Africans in general, with our economy continuing to shed jobs, resulting in growing inequality and deepening poverty, as a result of the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite all of this, the Federation has made some significant progress, presented critical policy interventions, and engaged in several strike activities, including pickets in defence of workers and the working class.
Organisationally the federation has achieved a milestone by turning all of thirty-five (35) years. This is a big deal for an organisation that was born in the belly of the beast that was Apartheid and that has survived many trials and tribulations since then.
We are happy that thirty-five years later many workers and unions are still showing their trust in the federation by joining it in numbers. We have accepted new affiliates and recruited new members through our ongoing recruitment campaign. This added over 120 000 new members to the COSATU family.
Our affiliated trade unions have acquitted themselves very well in representing their members under very challenging conditions. They have proven that what has kept the federation alive over the last thirty-five (35) years is sheer hard work.
They also appreciate and recognise that we are defending workers under qualitatively different conditions, which include changing workplaces, mechanisation and automation and a dire economic situation. This has been complicated by the emergence of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has made workplaces danger zones. We salute all the fallen heroes and heroines that have died in the line of duty, especially frontline workers who lost their lives taking care of others.
In the public service, we are seeing austerity measures that have seen government on the offensive attacking nurses, teachers, police officers, cleaners, and other workers for wanting to earn a decent wage.Issues like occupational health and safety and the defence of collective bargaining have been at the forefront of many of our struggles this year.
Many workplaces, in both the private and public sector were caught unprepared by the outbreak of COVID-19, and the lack of proper systems in place meant that workers were left vulnerable. COSATU unions rolled up their sleeves and pushed back against the employers who in the midst of a deadly pandemic were still immorally pursuing their exploitative and corrupt methods.
Unions pushed for more labour inspectors to be employed by the Department of Employment and Labour and forced the Ministry to empower workers by allowing them to exercise their right to refuse to work under dangerous conditions.
We saw pickets all across the economy with the affiliated unions adopting an aggressive legal strategy to hold the employers accountable under COVID-19 lockdown regulations that did not allow for big gatherings.
We had the first virtual May Day celebrations and the first virtual Collective Bargaining, Organising and Campaigns Conference. This showed that we remain an agile and adaptive organisation that is solution-oriented.
The watershed Collective Bargaining, Organising and Campaigns Conferenceheld on the 11th – 13th November 2020 noted the challenges faced by collective bargaining both in the public and the private sector and resolved that bargaining councils must be further be strengthened to grapple with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. With many jobs on the line, the conference resolved to develop a Retrenchment tool kit that will ensure that retrenchments are indeed the last resort for companies.
In response to the offensive against Collective Bargaining and the rise in the scourge of corruption in our country, the federation went on strike on the 07th of October to demand action from policymakers and decision-makers. This was aground-breaking strike, from a political point of view, as it brought together for the first time, workers across trade union federations, marking an important step for the unity of workers. Workers heeded the call, and the message was loud and clear that, a class struggle is the only solution to our problems.
This was followed up by a protest action/sit-in at the Union Buildings on the 4th December 2020 by the members of the federation’s highest decision-making body in-between congresses, the Central Executive Committee. This action was a follow up demanding a response from The presidency on the memorandum submitted on the 7th October 2020. This was a reminder that the federation is not going to let up in its fight against exploitation and corruption.
We also saw some of our affiliated trade unions that have struggled with internal challenges making huge strides towards recovery this year. SAMWU convened its successful National Congress and the federation continues to give support to SAMATU and other unions experiencing difficulties and challenges.
Despite a difficult year, there has been progress and victories on many fronts for COSATU and its unions. Some of the key achievements are as follows:
· COSATU ensured that up to R60 billion relief to workers was provided through the UIF COVID-19 TERS Fund. This is the biggest contribution to the economic stimulus by workers through their deferred wages in the UIF.
· Worked with other partners to ensure that there is an R350 Covid-19 unemployment grant, an increase in social grants, debt relief and the Loan Guarantee Scheme for businesses to save jobs.
· Worked with government and industry on an alcohol social compact to address the abuse of alcohol.
· Participated in engagements to formalise the taxi sector and ensure that workers in the sector are provided the labour rights due to them.
· Contributed to the drafting of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan that made an emphasis on:
o ramped up local procurement.
o Interventions to ramp up the fight against corruption and wasteful expenditure.
o Expanded public employment programmes e.g. hiring of teaching assistants for schools.
o Infrastructure programme targeting key infrastructure e.g. rail, ports, energy, roads, and water that can unlock economic growth, including through amending Regulation 28 to allow for investments in infrastructure.
· Eskom Social Compact– Developed the Draft of an Eskom Social Compact and Implementation Plan to stabilise and rebuild our most critical SOE and economic asset and to protect workers’ jobs at Eskom and across the economy. This also will ensure that the economy has reliable and affordable electricity.
o Holding government to account for their failures to assent to and enact key progressive legislation e.g.:
§ PIC Amendment Bill (addressing allegations of corruption in the PIC and enforcing transparency and accountability to workers on how their funds are spent),
§ Unemployment Insurance Amendment Act (providing UIF protection to public servants),
§ Labour Laws Amendment Act (providing paid parental and adoption leave for public servants),
§ Political Party Funding Act (requiring political parties to disclose funders),
§ The tabling of the COIDA Bill at Parliament (will provide injury on duty cover for domestic workers),
§ Tabling of the Employment Equity Bill at Parliament (will strengthen employment equity provisions),
§ Cabinet approval of Convention 190 which tackles sexual harassment at the workplace.
Legally– we have managed to pushback against a biased ruling by the Labour Court that interdicted our Section 77 strike against the Financial Sector last year. This is an important victory because it will have set a bad precedent going forward and undermined our right to strike. The recent decision by the Labour Appeals Court is another proof that the judiciary has chosen sides and we need to push back against this new tendency.
Politically, we saw a continuing incoherence within the Alliance. While we agree on the need for fundamental economic transformation, this largely remains true only in theory but lacks content and practical proposals.
The Treasury continues with its conservative macro-economic framework. This has seen an emboldened treasury unilaterally deciding to renege on implementing the third leg of 2018 Salary Adjustment Agreement. We must ready ourselves for more brutal fights and difficult public service wage negotiations going forward if the Treasury’s attitude is anything to go by.
As workers enjoy their holidays, we urge them to ready themselves for the battles that lie ahead and remember that both the centres of business and political power concede nothing without a demand and will give nothing away if demand comes from a weak or divided class.
We should also not forget to offer practical solidarity to vulnerable families, who have lost their livelihoods due to job losses as a result of the economic crisis
We should share with the poor and remember that there are more than 14 million unemployed people in this country, and they will be struggling to make ends meet during this period. The principles of unity and solidarity should continue to guide us, as we enjoy this festive holiday season.
During this festive time, the Federation reiterates its call for all South Africans to take up the fight against Gender-Based Violence. This scourge needs to be defeated and all of us have a role to play. We urge males, in particular, to take on this fight and protect women and children.
NB: While some offices of the federation will be closed, the machinery remains ready and willing to represent workers and wage their struggles during this period.
Happy holidays to all South Africans and a happy new year.
Issued by COSATU National Office Bearers
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)
Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794