COSATU GS, Solly Phetoe’s Input to the BRICS Trade Union Forum held on the 26th – 27th September 2023 in Durban

Chairperson of the Session, President Zingi Losi

ILO Director General, Mr Gilbert Houngbo

Delegates from the various BRICS Countries

Leaders of the 4 South African federations hosting the 12th BTUF

Invited Guests and fraternal organisations

Dear Comrades

COSATU take this opportunity to welcome the input by the ILO Director General regarding the advancement of the future of Decent work, with ILO and BRICS as partners.

We are gathered here today to reflect on a journey travelled by workers and social partners to defend the rights of workers to health and safety, better working conditions, better incomes, training and development, freedom to organise and defend their rights, as well as in search for social justice and equality.

The DG of the ILO spoke about the changing terrain of the workplace and society in general, which has implications for all workers and social partners in general. This talks to our need to sharpen our organising strategies, mobilisation tools and education systems that will prepare workers for the new world of work and the new worker. The trade union movement must understand that the new worker has different views on the trade union and requires that we clearly and fully understand what that means in organisational and political terms.

COSATU 14th National Congress boldly articulated what are the pillars of our medium term vision or the foundation of organisational renewal and building our multiple capacities to wage the class battle in all fronts, simultaneously. Building COSATU and its affiliates talks to building the unity, strength and technical capacity of the trade union to wage a struggle in the boardroom, workplace and on the ground.

There can be now workers victory without struggle and there can be no struggle without workers organisation, hence the dialectical link between the two of them. The ILO itself is a product of a particular era of workers struggles, but its clear now that, capital is regaining ground and pushing workers to the periphery, in search for a new and different trajectory they so desire.

The current case of the stalemate regarding the right to strike and whether Convention 87 and 98 in asserting workers rights to organise and freely associate, they include the right to strike. Employers are at war with workers regarding this important and fundamental basis of workers struggle. This is why we fully support that the ILO Governing Body must take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a legal opinion, which employers are not so keen for.

We welcome and encourage all governments that have made their views known about the support for the legal opinion and we call for more tripartite partners to do so too.

The growing importance of the BRICS Trade Union Forum (BTUF) illustrates the importance and centrality of workers power in all matters affecting workers and society in general. That is why we must talk about the Coordination mechanism of the BTUF and how best it can be used to advance a common platform and agenda for global social justice to fight the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequalities. These are the ugly manifestations of the failures of capitalism.

There can be no justice and peace or progress in one part of the world, without same in other parts of the world, hence the constant instabilities, imperialist wars of conquest in search for the natural resources of other people, exclusion in global governance for some regions, like Africa, as well as disease and hunger for millions of people.

The ILO is a global premier institution governing labour relations and working conditions, as well as social justice generally. It must always strive to ensure that its focus is not distracted by capital or the rich seeking to impose their own narrow selfish interests in the name of economic growth that excludes and leave behind others. Without decent work and social justice, there can be no sustainable and balanced economic growth and development. It is also a UN body, with the co-responsibility of managing global affairs in the interests of peace, justice and development. This gives it massive responsibility, as it does for all social partners.

There are five major issues confronting the ILO in our times:

1.     The growing power of huge multinational companies that are operating across borders, looting human, financial and material resources as they please, with little or not regulation. These also fragment workplace organisation and displace labour and or workers rights to maximise profit for shareholders

2.     The labour market is being torn apart, if not fragmented and stratified further, hence systemic exclusion of millions of workers from bargaining institutions and gains by workers struggles

3.     The dichotomy between the traditional bargaining institutions as national development imperatives and the broader global divide and exclusion of certain regions from real economic and productive activities, including industrialisation, job creation and technological advances and skills. This is with more emphasis to our own continent, Africa and the global south in general.

4.     The massive migration patterns and consistent displacement of labour due to uneven development in the world and the consequences of disruptive and overflowing migration, particularly from poor or unstable regions and countries to better and more stable parts of the world.

5.     The glaring inequalities and the changing nature of the global political economy, resulting in the vicious attacks on collective bargaining institutions, workers rights and dignity of people. This includes whether the post 2nd world war multilateral architecture is still suitable for the fast changing needs of humanity in our times and how best we can redesign a new, more effective and fit for purpose global system of social justice and common progress

As organized labour we will also want to see government initialising , implementing including enforcement of the following priorities under the theme of ;Ensuring decent work, dignity and respect for all, namely  , Building sustainable enterprise ,including new forms of employment and increasing productivity, Promoting labour rights and decreasing decent work deficits in the context of the recovery , Universal social protection and ensuring minimum basic income and promoting decent work agenda by closing skills gaps in the informal economy.

For us as South African Trade unions federations, government must commit in promulgating and enforcing is critical, otherwise all these priorities remain only in papers and are never enforced to transform the place of work, it will never benefit workers.

The Organisation such as ILO should unite to represent and champions the rights of workers bloc, that’s the only workers can benefit from the expanded BRICS bloc if they can unit and have a common agenda that seeks to advance the progressive laws that protect workers rights and reduce unemployment

With these few words dear comrades, we have have succeeded in provoking further thoughts into the deeper dilemma of searching for deeper solutions to the deeper problems we face. Building on the presentation of the DG, we seek to nip the problem in the bud and find real answers to the real problems workers are facing.