COSATU Central Executive Committee statement -29-31 May 2023

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) held its scheduled Central Executive Committee meeting from 29-31 May 2023. The meeting congratulated the federation on convening peaceful and successful May Day celebrations and the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1973 Durban strikes. The Federation intends to continue to work to keep the memories of the victims of the Bethlehem bus crash alive and work with the families to offer them whatever assistance they need.

National Child Protection Week -The CEC noted that this week is National Child Protection Week which is about raising awareness of the rights of children as enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa, as well as in the Children’s Act, under the theme; “Let us Protect Children during COVID-19 and Beyond”. Children are the most vulnerable and need to be protected against abuse and any form of neglect, violence, and exploitation. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that children are not exposed to any harm, whether intentional or not. We call on our members to lead from the front in the campaign against the abuse and exploitation of children.

National Day of Action-The CEC expressed its displeasure with the heightened offensive against the working class which expresses itself in government policies, which include cuts in real wages, retrenchments, and an increase in unemployment rates. We are also unhappy with the government’s failure to fight corruption, the energy crisis and exorbitant interest rates.  In response, the meeting resolved to embark on a National Day of Action on the 6th of July 2023 in defense of collective bargaining and pushing back against this offensive. This will also be building towards the 07th of October International Decent Work Day. We have resolved to heighten our struggles on all fronts and advance and defend our interests and aspirations.


The focus will be on vulnerable sectors which in the main are less organized, but workers are more exploited with less or no social benefits (fishery and construction sectors) including in the Industrial sectors.

Solidarity Action

The Federation has resolved to intensify practical solidarity support to all workers engaged in industrial actions, starting with the Makro strike. The Federation has resolved that the Makro strike is no longer a SACCAWU strike but a COSATU strike and that all our provinces and affiliates should develop programs of action and fundraise for solidarity support in the defence of these workers.  This solidarity action will include the campaign by the federation and its affiliates to persuade civil society and communities to join in the boycott of all Makro stores across the country.

Building the Organisation- The Central Executive Committee’s assessment has concluded that our federation and its affiliates have steadily regrouped since the 14th National Congress. Despite some challenges, many of our affiliates have gradually regained their focus and strength. The meeting instructed the federation to expedite its interventions in affiliates facing internal organizational challenges such as CWU, CEPPWAWU, AFADWU, SASBO, and SATAWU

State of Municipalities- The CEC expressed alarm at the revelations that some municipalities across the country are failing to pay workers their salaries on time. The Federation reiterates its call for the government to come out with a turnaround strategy to revive municipalities that experiencing financial distress. We also urge the government to expedite the rollout of the District Development Model.  It is clear we cannot sustain many of the 259 municipalities, many of whom lack a sufficient rate base to sustain them.  The National Treasury needs to move with speed to table the Public Procurement Bill in Parliament to enable it to be passed into law before the 2024 elections.

Cholera- The meeting expressed its concern over the outbreak of cholera in some parts of the country and hopes that this will jolt the powers that be into action to address the issue of water shortage and contamination. This outbreak is a reminder that South Africa faces a serious water catastrophe that has been ignored for many years. The country suffers not only from water scarcity but also from water pollution. We call on the national government to take drastic steps to intervene and improve water quality across the country.


Unemployment numbers –The Federation noted the regression in the unemployment rate from 32.7% to 32.9% in the 1st Quarter of 2023. The Federation is deeply worried that last year’s momentum in reducing unemployment may be lost with the current rampant levels of load shedding suffocating the economy. The government’s failure to fix load-shedding and drive economic recovery has reached crisis levels. We reiterate our calls for an activist government and a democratic developmental state that is capable of intervening effectively to transform economic relations. 

Rising Cost of Living– The CEC is deeply concerned by the rising costs of living, a stubbornly high unemployment rate and poverty levels.  COSATU will be ramping up its campaigns to help protect the working class from the rising costs of living and poverty.  Key interventions being championed include:

  • Adjusting the Special Relief Dispensation Grant (SRD) for inflation since it has not been adjusted from the time when it was introduced in 2020.  Administrative issues frustrating the poor when applying for it need to be addressed.  It needs to be raised to the food poverty line and used as a foundation for a Basic Income Grant.
  • Extending the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention which has helped more than 1 million young and unemployed persons enter the labour market, earn a wage, and gain valuable skills and experience. Treasury in a moment of madness intends to end it in 2024.  This needs to be retained and ramped up to accommodate at least 2 million active participants.
  • Reducing the taxes that constitute 28% of the fuel price.  This is the fastest and most effective way to reduce food and transport and other key goods’ prices and thus providing relief to millions and the economy.  Part of reducing the fuel price is to fix the chaos that is the Road Accident Fund and its ballooning R400 billion liabilities. This includes tabling the RAF and RABS Bills in Parliament.
  • Continuing to engage the SA Reserve Bank to ease the excessively reckless and suffocating increases in the repo rate.

The CEC welcomed progress in processing and passing various progressive legislation that will advance working class struggles at Nedlac, Parliament and government.  Key legislative developments include the:

Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Act which will extend coverage to over 900 000 domestic workers as well as expand protections for all workers, has been signed into law by the President and will come into effect from 1 September 2023.

Employment Equity Amendment Act provides a more inclusive approach by recognising regional demographic variations, will nudge errant employers who have to date neglected to meet their employment equity obligations, and require companies doing business with the state to follow the Employment Equity and National Minimum Wage Acts; has been signed into law by the President and will come into effect from 1 September 2023.

Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Bill is being reviewed by the Department of Employment and Labour and will soon be re-tabled at Nedlac.  It is critical that it be strengthened to protect workers from being forced to work in dangerous conditions without adequate protection.

National Health Insurance Bill has been endorsed by the Portfolio Committee on Health and will soon be voted upon by the National Assembly.  It is critical that Parliament ensures its adoption before the end of the 6th Parliament.  The building of an NHI is key to ensuring all workers have access to quality and affordable health care.

Public Procurement Bill has been approved by Cabinet for tabling at Parliament. It will lay the foundation for a single transparent public procurement system for the entire state.  This is key to tackling the cancer of corruption crippling the state and supporting local procurement and BBBEE.

Municipal Systems Amendment Act’s unconstitutional provisions prohibiting all municipal workers from holding positions in any political party are being challenged in court by SAMWU and COSATU. This reckless amendment is a blatant assault on the right of municipal workers’ constitutional rights and an attempt to collapse the ability of workers to influence the political discourse of the nation.

Eskom Debt Relief Bill will soon be voted upon by the National Assembly.  It follows COSATU’s call and the Eskom Social Compact agreement to relieve Eskom of 2 thirds (R254 billion) of its unsustainable debt burden. This will enable Eskom to shift its limited resources towards ramping up maintenance.  This is key to ending the devastating levels of load-shedding that are crippling the economy and threatening the livelihoods of millions of workers.

Unemployment Insurance Fund: –The CEC has noted with great concern the number of challenges facing the UIF and the impact this has on workers across sectors. The CEC has deliberated that there is a great requirement to ensure that the UIF administration is monitored and issues pertaining to the fund are brought to a task team of COSATU, where the UIF will be brought in to identify all affiliate issues and resolve the issues per sector and workplace.

This is to avoid the destabilisation of the fund and its function, which is to ensure that workers receive short-term relief when needed. The UIF is an important part of ensuring that workers are not left destitute and ensuring that there is sufficient income replacement for workers during times of crisis. We demand decisive action to be taken against employers who are failing to pay deducted workers’ monies to the fund.

Energy Crises: The economy cannot grow without reliable and affordable electricity. The shortage of electricity causing load shedding affects everyone. Workers struggle to get to work, workplaces cannot be productive, salaries are in danger of not being able to be paid, jobs may be lost, the economy will lose about 2% of its projected growth rate for the year, investors will look elsewhere, the state will collect less tax revenue needed to pay for public services and servants etc. The electricity crisis is too large for the government on its own to fix. COSATU will convene an energy summit as per the resolution of the 14th National Congress to discuss modalities to overcome the energy crises.

Just Energy Transition Investment Plan: The Federation has taken a decision to reject the South African government’s proposed Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JETIP) in its current form. In our view, the plan fails to consider the concerns of affected workers and communities. COSATU has been instrumental in introducing the concept of a Just Transition, which aims to address historical inequalities and identify new pathways to transform the South African economy. The investment plan has been hastily developed, with critical participation from labour being explicitly excluded from the formulation process.

The principles of social dialogue and transparency have been ignored on the substance of the investment plan, resulting in a pathway that heavily favours private capital and multinational corporations while neglecting the needs of the workers and communities that are most vulnerable in the energy transition and the broader climate crisis. The plan, as it stands, is more concerned with financialization than it is with the necessary social policy, science, and innovation required to address the Climate crisis in the coming decade.

Presidential Health Summit -The Presidential Health Summit was convened in May and the purpose of the summit was to bring about solutions to strengthen the health system to ensure that it provides access to quality health services for all, in line with the principles of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) through an inclusive process. Further to this is to unlock the process that will lead to the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI), which includes: universal quality health care, social solidarity, and equity in health access. The improvement of the health system is largely focused on building an integrated health system, moving away from the current two-tiered health system that is the current status quo.  The CEC calls on the government to promulgate the NHI bill and usher in the National Health Insurance.

 AGOA- The meeting expressed concern over the Neo-liberal stranglehold, including some of the preferential trade areas, like AGOA, GSP, which have their own dangerous side effects on the development trajectory of our continent and trade. In spite of this, the Federation will strengthen its collaboration with other federations and unions, organised businesses and government to support the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s engagements on ensuring South Africa’s membership of the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act, as this is key to millions of auto, clothing, electronics, food, agriculture, mining and other manufacturing jobs across the country. 

Political section

The CEC reflected on the current state of South African politics and the Alliance in particular. The meeting mandated the federation to continue to facilitate the discussions around the reconfiguration of the Alliance.

In its analysis, the CEC concluded that the federation needs to grapple with the many contradictions that currently face the ANC government which is struggling to ensure a radical improvement in the conditions of work and living standards of workers.

The reality is that the Federation and the ANC share a constituency and many COSATU members’ interests are not antagonistic to the ANC’s broad constituency, and indeed organised workers constitute the core of that constituency.

COSATU’s public sector affiliates have been engaging with the government as an employer, and this has further complicated matters. Public sector transformation is also one of the areas which has been most problematic and have thrown up many tensions and contradictions.

The CEC acknowledged and praised the federation for its efforts to retain its organisational independence while remaining part of the Tripartite Alliance. The Federation’s decision to remain independent but engaged is informed by international experience in Africa and elsewhere.

Strong independent unions are one of the strongest guarantees of democracy, at the same time, strategic unionism committed to a transformation project is a vital condition for that project to succeed.

We still believe in the idea of transformative unionism- meaning an active independent, but engaged, trade union movement. The meeting made it clear that we cannot afford to retreat to a sectarian approach, but we need to continue to play a pivotal role in the transformation of society The interests of workers should be advanced through the thoroughgoing transformation of society.

The coming 2024 National elections pose a serious dilemma for COSATU and workers in general; and as we pursue workers’ demands and interests in these elections, we must be bold about what it means under the circumstances, particularly in the era of Coalitions and the risks they pose to the working class. The Alliance needs to ensure that all necessary preparations to ensure a decisive victory in the 2024 elections are undertaken and executed.


On Cuba-The United Nations Human Rights Council opened the Universal Periodic Reviews submissions for the year 2023. COSATU made a submission raising the issues of concern regarding Cuba. In the submission, COSATU highlighted that Cuba’s human rights obligations must be understood in its historical context. As a small country, it has been subjected to sabotage and harassment by the former world power and the largest capitalist state in the world – the US. For more than half a century Cuba has been faced with US economic sanctions which have no legal basis in international law.  The Federation condemned the interference in the internal affairs of Cuba by various foreign agencies, intelligence and other proxy groups masquerading as charity and aid groups funding destabilisation.

BRICS- In April, COSATU hosted its first International Relations Committee Meeting for 2023. The meeting discussed the current international balance of forces, delved deeper into the expectations we have from South Africa’s BRICS presidency, COSATU’s role in preparation to host the BRICS Trade Union Forums(TUF), it also discussed the Zimbabwe elections and their implications on regional stability, and provide an update and report on the work done between the January to May 2023 period. As COSATU, we call for the implementation of the Motlanthe Commission recommendation in Zimbabwe considering the upcoming elections.

BRICS Trade Union Forums -South Africa assumed the chairpersonship of BRICS in January. It is in this context that South African Organised Labour will host the BRICS Trade Union Forums, which are held annually in the countries where the BRICS summit takes place. Trade union delegates will discuss the drafts of BRICS documents including those of an intergovernmental nature and formulate their position on the most important issues of the joint agenda. With South Africa as the host country this year, COSATU, FEDUSA, NACTU and SAFTCU will set the priority goals for hosting the 2023 BRICS Trade Unions Forum which is scheduled to take place in August.

Swaziland- Noting that later in the year Swaziland will be having its elections COSATU will intensify its campaigns in solidarity with the people of Swaziland, in their struggle for emancipation from the shackles of the monarch which has now marked its 50th anniversary since the Royal Decree was ruled and legislated.

Palestine -The CEC congratulated COSATU in the Western Cape for participating in a protest organised by alliance partners and other progressive pro-Palestine organisations to commemorate Nakba. The 15th of May march condemned the ongoing catastrophes that Palestinians are forced to endure at the hands of apartheid Israel.

US Ambassador- The meeting condemned the behaviour of the US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety for irresponsibly making unsubstantiated allegations against the South African government, regarding weapons shipments to Russia.

This is a reminder that South Africa is not immune from US meddling and interference and that our economic policies which are based on the free market and non-protection of key sectors against cheap imports leave this country and its economy vulnerable.

We support the posture of our government to defend our sovereignty and historic alliances, as well as to affirm our non-aligned status and support for a negotiated settlement to the war. It is these allies and their sacrifices that made our democracy possible. But the Federation continues to encourage our government to also pursue an approach that is much more prudential than doctrinaire on this matter.

Uganda-The meeting denounced the passing of anti-gay legislation in Uganda and believes that the Uganda situation presents a danger that human rights may be impeded by all sorts of disguises, including outright homophobia and persecution of LGBTQI+ communities.

Sudan -The CEC expressed concern over the situation in Sudan and believes that this is a big problem for the continent when proxy wars are fought on the continent and the people of the continent are turned into fodder.

IndustriALL Global Union -The CEC noted that IndustriALL Global Union shall be hosting an important event in Cape Town and several COSATU affiliates shall be there, the CEC has mandated the federation to actively support and participate in this important workshop.

Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Cell: 060 975 6794