Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU): CEC Statement

Before we commence, we would like to observe a moment of silence for those who tragically passed away or were injured in the fire today in a building in Johannesburg.  We wish those affected a speedy recovery and all the strength during this painful time. 

Law enforcement and the City must take the necessary action to hold any persons who transgressed the law accountable and to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) held its ordinary Central Executive Committee (CEC) from the 28 to the 29th of August.  The CEC is an opportunity for the Federation and Affiliates to report on the work done to defend members and advance the interests of workers, to reflect on the many socio-economic challenges facing the nation and develop proposals on how they can be resolved.

The CEC took place whilst the working class is under siege on many fronts.  Whilst we have seen some progress on the unemployment front, it remains a ticking time bomb when 4 out of 10 South Africans and 6 out of 10 youth cannot find work. 

Despite government’s efforts since 1994, we remain the world’s most unequal nation.  We have seen poverty levels rise as workers’ wages are eroded by a spike in inflation, massive hikes to the repo rate and employers reneging on wage agreements. 

The public and municipal services that the working class depends upon have been battered by the costs of state capture and corruption.  Key State-Owned Enterprises, in particular Eskom, Transnet, Prasa, the Post Office remain embattled and pose a threat to millions of workers’ jobs and livelihoods.

The CEC received reports on worrying developments in the labour market and a rising tendency of employers to undermine collective bargaining, abandon signed wage agreements and impose wage freezes on workers who are already drowning in debt and not able to provide for their families.

We are appalled by the state of local government where 36 municipalities routinely fail to pay their staff and some even defrauding statutory deductions, e.g. pension and medical funds. 

Tshwane Municipality is refusing to honour 2 years’ wage agreements and has purged more than 100 staff who dared to express their grievances. Newcastle and Enoch Mgijima Municipalities have now indicated they intend to follow suit. 

The Federation with our Affiliate, SAMWU are engaging with the Department of Cooperative Governance and the South African Local Government Association to resolve this crisis.  If it continues, it threatens labour market stability across local government when communities are desperate for access to basic services. 

It is clear that unless decisive interventions are undertaken across local government urgently, we will see many more municipalities collapse.  It is time we developed a road map towards the District Development Model.

We are supporting SAMWU’s constitutional court challenge to the Municipal Systems Amendment Act’s infringement on the right of all municipal workers to hold office in a political party.  We cannot afford to allow politicians to undermine the Bill of Rights.

COSATU and our Affiliate, CWU, are engaging with government to find a turnaround plan for the Post Office, that does not involve retrenching 6 000 employees and slashing the remaining staff’s salaries by 40%.

Reports indicating that up to 45% of eligible employers are ignoring the National Minimum Wage are deeply concerning.  COSATU and its Affiliates will intensify our campaigns to ensure employers comply with our labour laws and to report to the Department of Employment and Labour those who fail to do so. 

It is fitting that we end Women’s Month by welcoming the coming into effect of the Employment Equity Amendment Act requiring all companies doing business with the state to be in full compliance with the Employment Equity and the National Minimum Wage Acts; as well as the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Act extending cover to 900 000 domestic workers and workers at large. 

The Employment Equity Amendment Act strengthens requirements for employers to ensure that their workplaces reflect our diversity including women.  We celebrate the gains we have made in expanding paid maternity and parental leave, including covering mothers who experienced still born births and third trimester miscarriages. 

More needs to do be done to enforce the 3 progressive Gender Based Violence laws passed by Parliament and the ILO Convention 190, in particular its banning of sex offenders from positions of authority and tackling sexual harassment at the workplace.

Against difficult circumstances, many of COSATU’s Affiliates have been able to win impressive above inflation increases for millions of workers across the economy, in particular SACTWU, SACCAWU, NUM and SATAWU’s substantial wage agreements.

We appreciate the challenges affecting workers also affect the state and employers, but the road to rebuilding South Africa needs to be one that includes workers and is not premised upon treating them little better than glorified slaves.

COSATU was founded to provide to leadership to the working class and champion practical solutions to the many challenges they face.  We continue to work with our Affiliates at workplaces, bargaining councils, industrial master plans to remove obstacles to growing the economy and creating jobs.  Key socio-economic interventions COSATU is pushing for in the Alliance, at Nedlac and Parliament include:

·       Raising the Special Relief Dispensation Grant to the Food Poverty Line and linking its recipients to skills and employment opportunities.

·       Extending the intake of the Presidential Employment Programme to 1 million young people by October’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement and 2 million by the February Budget Speech.

·       Fast tracking the 2 pot pension reform bills to enable financially struggling workers early access to limited parts of their pension funds.

·       Reduce the 28% of the fuel price dedicated to taxes, including interventions to overhaul the Road Accident Fund.

·       Filling public service vacancies, in particular key frontline services e.g. health, education and law enforcement.

·       Allocating additional resources to SARS to tackle tax evasion, institute lifestyle audits of the wealthy and increase revenue to fund public services.

·       Providing necessary support to law enforcement organs to intensify the fight against crime and corruption.

·       Further support to rebuild Eskom and ensure reliable and affordable electricity.

The Federation and unions operating at Transnet and Prasa are deeply concerned about the state of passenger and freight rail and our ports.  If they are not urgently resolved they pose a threat to millions of workers’ jobs, the economy and the fiscus. 

We do not believe that privatization is a solution for the crises affecting Transnet.  Appointing competent management, securing rail infrastructure, arresting those involved in corruption and cable theft, investing in the skills of workers and infrastructure are what is needed.  We are engaging government on workers’ fears that privatization will lead to retrenchments.

The Federation and its Affiliates remain opposed to the privatization of any SOEs and are mobilising workers in these sectors in defence of their jobs and the need to retain public ownership of state held utilities and companies.

COSATU continues to push at Nedlac and Parliament for key progressive Bills to be finalised and enacted into law as we enter the final stretch of the 6th administration.  Critical bills the Federation is working with government on include the:

·       2 pot pension reform bills enabling financially struggling workers early access to limited parts of their pension funds.

·       National Health Insurance Bill ensuring quality and affordable healthcare for all.

·       Expropriation Bill further empowering the state to ensure access to land for all.

·       Companies Amendment Bill requiring companies to disclose their wage gaps, financial reports and ownership as part of building a more equitable wage market and tackling corruption and money laundering.

·       Public Procurement Bill establishing a single transparent online procurement system for the entire state, boost localisation and reduce corruption.

·       Copyright Amendment and Performers Protection Bills availing access to educational materials for students and persons with visual impairments, as well as protecting the rights of actors, performers and musicians.

We remain an organisation guided by the principles of international working-class solidarity.  We applaud the work done by President Cyril Ramaphosa and government on a very successful BRICS Summit, overseeing its strategic expansion and increasing the role it is playing as a pillar for multilateralism and a voice for developing nations.  COSATU will soon host the BRICS Trade Union Forum in September 2023.

We are working closely with government led by the Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, to ensure that South Africa remains a member of the African Growth and Opportunities Act, that it is renewed beyond 2025 and that the scope of goods it provides favourable access to is increased to further support South Africa and the continent’s economic growth and industrialisation.  This is particularly important to thousands of South African mining, manufacturing and agricultural jobs. 

The upcoming AGOA Summit to be hosted in South Africa will for the first time include a labour component where COSATU with our counterparts across Africa will be pushing for a decent labour clause for AGOA.

Our bold and militant campaigns depend upon a well-oiled trade union movement.  COSATU is continuing to intervene and assist unions struggling due to various weaknesses.  We are ensuring unions comply with their constitutions and the requirements of the Labour Relations Act.  Unions remain the property of workers and must at all times serve the needs of their members. 

We are pleased our efforts are beginning to bear fruit with the remarkable turnaround by SAMWU, SATAWU and SAMATU who not long ago were limping.

The Federation and Affiliates are strengthening their systems to recruit and service workers, including launching a hotline for workers to contact and join COSATU.

COSATU welcomes the interest shown by many unions to join the Federation, including those organising call centres, taxi drivers, musicians and public works programmes workers.  COSATU is a home for all workers.  We are engaging these unions to ensure they find their place inside the Federation. 

The call of Elijah Barayi for workers to unite, and one industry, one union, one country, one federation remains as relevant as ever.

We are intensifying our campaigns on the ground to show solidarity with workers, from Frankfort to Ditsobotla.  COSATU will be holding its International Day of Decent Work by embarking on a 2-hour work stoppage across all workplaces on Friday 6 October. 

South Africa will be holding elections in 2024 and perhaps the most contested since 1994.  COSATU has resolved to work flat out to ensure that the Alliance led by the African National Congress secures an absolute majority nationally and provincially. 

Workers have too much at stake to experiment with the current levels of chaos that have become synonymous with coalition governments.

We continue to work with the South African Communist Party to strengthen the Left Axis, reconfigure the Alliance and ensure it sets the direction for government.  We urge our ally, the ANC to intensify its renewal and cleansing campaigns.The challenges facing the working class are immense.  At times it is easy to retreat and give up.  This is a luxury COSATU does not have.  The working class is depending upon this Federation of Ray Alexander and John Nkadimeng to continue to defend their rights and jobs and improve the lives of ordinary South Africans.