BRICS Trade Unions Forum Input to the Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting, Durban 28 to 29 September 2023 by COSATU President Zingiswa Losi

Chairperson of the session,

Ministers of Labour and Employment,

Leaders of BRICS Trade Unions,

Tripartite Partners,


Invited Guests and participants,

Dear colleagues,

On Behalf of Organised Labour in the BRICS countries, organised as the BRICS Trade Union Forum, we extend our sincere appreciation for being invited to this important gathering of our colleagues in government and business.

We take this invitation very seriously knowing that we act on behalf of billions of working people in the BRICS family and throughout the world, who share the aspirations of decent work, social justice, inclusive development and a better life for their families and future generations.

The BRICS Trade Unions Forum just concluded a robust two-day robust meeting not far from this venue.  Our Declaration resolved on the following key points including:

1.    Deliberate and targeted Investment in people for inclusive development, job creation and guaranteeing quality healthcare and education.

2.    Elimination of income inequalities in class, gender, racial and across developing regions of the world. This is even more critical for informal, farm, domestic, platform and other atypical and vulnerable workers as well as persons with disabilities. The ever-growing levels of income inequality remain a threat to social stability, progress and peace across the world, including in the BRICS nations.

3.    Institutionalisation of social dialogue and cooperation by tripartite partners of government, business and labour to advance decent work and inclusive development remains fundamental if we are to make progress in overcoming our many socio-economic challenges. This means national processes should defend and advance decent work, collective bargaining and social justice.

4.    The ILO, its Governing Body and overall composition must be inclusive.  We applaud those countries who have assented to the ILO Constitutional Amendment of 1986 and call upon others to do the same, particularly the major industrial economies and the permanent members of the ILO Governing Body. This is even critical for marginalised regions, in particular Africa.

5.    Advancing Social Protection and support for workers and communities facing deprivation, despair and poverty, whilst ensuring the long-term sustainability of economies and the planet, and improving the lives of working class communities.

6.    Fighting for a just transition that ensures clean energy and environmental justice, whilst protecting and creating jobs and communities.

It is critical that these progressive goals are not simply those of the BRICS Trade Union Forum but also enjoy the support of our colleagues in government and business. 

We have welcomed the positive role that BRICS has played in its short life span in the international community.  It has helped provide a balance in our often complicated, messy and at times dangerous geo-political landscape.  Whilst some international forums have sought to elevate the voices of the industrialised powers, BRICS has provided space for the views of the developing world to be heard. 

Our international organisations and forums must be led by principles that build humanity and not simply be guided by the interests of the powerful.

Organised Labour has welcomed the keen interest many countries have shown in joining BRICS in recognition of the role it has and can play.  We look forward to the admission of the new member states.  However, we must state firmly here to our colleagues in government, there are no blank cheques. 

Yes, we support BRICS, but we expect you as our governments to not only support but to actively champion the rights of workers, decent work and sustainable development.  There are many times when we do not hear your voice on these critical matters.  We don’t want to only hear you speaking in Geneva, but in your own countries on how you as government, and our colleagues here from Organised Business, are going to contribute towards improving the lives of workers and respecting labour rights and collective bargaining.

This will become even more critical as BRICS becomes BRICS Plus and new countries join us.  Some may not have the same progressive labour laws that we enjoy and champion.  We appreciate that all of our countries have different challenges and are at different stages of development.  But we must ensure that the rights of workers as set out in our many ILO Conventions are respected and a lived reality for all. 

BRICS has an important role to play in geo-politics, but we need it to evolve as a forum for economic development, infrastructure investment and job creation.  This must include the expansion of tourism and transport connections, promoting of trade and investment, and educational exchange programmes.  We must be sensitive to the differing economic needs of our countries and find ways to complement each other.

Our governments have ascribed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, what role will the BRICS Plus play in accelerating where we are found wanting?

Amongst ourselves there are many positive lessons we can learn from.  China has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty.  Brazil’s Bolsa Familia has inspired many with its boosting health, education and poverty alleviation.  India is increasingly becoming an IT powerhouse.  Russia has opened its universities to generations of students from the developing world.  South Africa has ensured that 27 million of our most impoverished citizens receive social security from the state.

Our engagements here provide expression to the idea of the tripartite partners of government, business and labour.  South Africa established a statutory social dialogue forum, NEDLAC, where government, business and labour are required to engage on social-economic and labour laws and policies before they are tabled at Parliament. 

Scandinavia and other countries have shown the value of government, business and labour working together for the national interest through social compacts.  We urge our colleagues across the BRICS Plus nations to consider similar models.

Chairperson, allow me to conclude here on behalf of the BRICS Trade Union Forum.  We thank you for inviting us to join you for these engagements.  We want you to succeed in your endeavours.  We are your partners in these important journeys.  Where you do well, we will commend you, where you struggle, we will encourage you, and where you fail, we will be honest with and expect you to do better.

Thank you.