COSATU end of year statement

20 December 2023

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) wishes South African workers a joyful holiday, a happy new year and those travelling a safe journey.

As workers spend time on holiday with family and recovering from a long year, it is important to remember those who sadly passed on.  These include such comrades and illustrious South Africans as Lydia Komape-Ngwenya, Tabile Kunene, Zeph Makgetla, Myrtle Witbooi, Mymoena Williams, Aziz and Essop Pahad, Tina Joemat-Pettersson and Bulelwa Zahara Mkutukana who contributed in various ways to COSATU, the liberation movement and the nation.  The Federation mourns the 12 mine workers who died at Bafokeng Platinum recently, the seventy police officers killed in the line of duty this year, the three farm workers who died in a car accident in Philadelphia last week and many other workers who needlessly lost their lives whilst at work.  We wish their loved ones strength as they mourn these losses.

2023 has been a difficult year for the working class and the country, yet it has also included areas of progress that must be built upon.  Unemployment has fallen from 46% in 2022 to 41% in 2023, progress but still dangerously high and in particular for young people facing an unemployment rate of 60%.  Slashing unemployment must be South Africa’s number focus. 

Workers have felt the brunt of the cost-of-living increases fuelled by rises in the international oil price and subsequent hikes to fuel, transport and food prices, electricity tariffs and the repo rate.  Wage increases for workers have not kept pace with these.  We hope the decrease in inflation from a peak of 7.6% in 2022 to 5.5% in 2023 is a sign that we are emerging from this cycle.  As inflation decreases, the Reserve Bank needs to ease the repo rate to provide badly needed breathing space for workers and the economy.  Government needs to honour its commitments to reduce the fuel price, especially the 28% of the fuel price going to taxes.  Interventions need to include dealing with the chaos at the Road Accident Fund and expediting the Road Accident Fund and Benefits Scheme Bills to ensure its relief goes to claimants not ambulance chasing lawyers.

The economy continues to limp along.  The projected 0.9 and more recent -0.2 economic growth rates will not see the jobs growth we need to keep pace with young people entering the labour market, let alone reduce the unemployment, poverty and inequality rates that scar the nation.  Key to tackling these crises, is removing the obstacles to growing the economy. 

Whilst welcoming progress in reducing loadshedding, Eskom remains under severe pressure.  It requires more support to ramp up maintenance and bring on board new generation capacity.  Special attention needs to be given to investing in Eskom’s distribution and transmission infrastructure and giving it support to tackle cable theft and corruption.

COSATU remains deeply concerned by Transnet’s performance and the impact its having on the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors and the threat they pose to thousands of jobs.  The National Union of Mineworkers is working valiantly to stem a possible flood of mining industry retrenchments.  The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union is intervening at factories to save thousands of jobs.  The R56 billion revenue shortfall in the Medium Budget Policy Statement is a consequence of Transnet’s crises.  We do not have two years for Transnet to be turned around.  There has to be a real improvement by February if we are to prevent a jobs bloodbath.

Similar interventions are desperately needed to stabilise and rebuild other embattled State-Owned Enterprises, in particular Metro Rail, the Post Office and Postbank, Denel, the South African Broadcasting Corporation as well as the twenty-seven municipalities in six provinces routinely failing to pay their employees and fraudulently deducting third party payments and failing to hand them over.  The Federation will ramp up its support to SAMWU’s efforts to deal with these delinquent municipalities.

We appreciate efforts by law enforcement officers to tackle our endemic levels of corruption and crime.  We have seen increasing numbers of persons arrested, tried and imprisoned for corruption and their assets attached, but it is not enough.  We are deeply disappointed that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is not making the progress society expects to bring high profile persons to trial to account.  If we want to win the war against crime and corruption, then government needs to resource the NPA, South African Police (SAPS) and the courts to fill critical vacancies.  It defies logic that the SAPS personnel head count has been allowed to decline from over 200 000 a decade ago to under 180 000 today whilst population and crime levels grow.  We are particularly concerned by the shamefully high levels of gender-based violence and sexual harassment.

The state needs to appreciate the experiences workers have with it, are often less than pleasant.  Workers struggle to submit their applications to and spend days needlessly queuing at Home Affairs, the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Fund, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.  This could be understood if we were still in the era of horse wagons and windmills, but is not acceptable in the 21st century, more so when these delays result in workers losing wages or being denied relief they are legally entitled to.

Our myriad of serious challenges require government to table a bold and decisive budget in Parliament in February. A timid business as usual budget will simply not make a difference.  The crises we face are not an expenditure or a public service wage bill crisis.  They are crises of a stagnant economy, loadshedding and cable theft, deteriorating rail and ports, collapsing municipalities, overstretched public services, stubbornly high unemployment, entrenched crime and corruption.  These require government to show the necessary vision and fortitude.  Praying for miracles will not create jobs. 

The Federation will continue to engage with government on a bold and aggressive budget that will move away from short sighted austerity budget cuts to one focused on providing relief for the poor, protecting workers, rebuilding public services and stimulating the economy.  Key interventions need to include raising the SRD Grant to the food poverty line, linking its recipients to skills and employment opportunities, extending the Presidential Employment Programme to include at least two million participants and filling key frontline public service vacancies.

COSATU is pleased many of its campaigns to advance working class struggles are bearing fruit, in particular in Bargaining Councils, master plans, at the Alliance, in Nedlac and Parliament.  Key victories won benefiting millions of workers across the private and public sectors include the:

  • Two pot pension reforms due to come into effect on 1 September 2024 that will provide relief to highly indebted workers by allowing them early access to limited portions of their pension funds annually.
  • Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Act providing cover to 900 000 domestic workers and extending cover for occupational illnesses.
  • Employment Equity Amendment Act enabling a more inclusive approach recognising South Africa’s regional demographic diversity, requiring employers to make meaningful progress in meeting their targets and requiring companies doing business with the state to be in compliance with the Employment Equity and National Minimum Wage Acts. 
  • Recommended increase inflation plus 3% for the National Minimum Wage in 2024 boosting the wages of six million workers in the private sector to over R27.50 per hour.  Whilst we welcome progress in raising the NMW, we are aggrieved by the number of employers who continue to ignore it and other labour laws.  We will be ramping up our campaigns to enforce compliance with our labour laws across workplaces.
  • Above inflation wage increases won by many Affiliates, including SACTWU in the clothing and textiles industries, SATAWU at Metro Rail and in the transport sector, NUM at Eskom amongst many others.
  • Parliament’s passing the National Health Insurance Bill laying the foundation for a single health care insurance scheme to ensure all South Africans have access to quality healthcare.
  • Scrapping the ban on all municipal employees holding office in a political party under the Municipal Systems’ Amendment Act.
  • National Assembly’s passage of the Expropriation Bill which will be a powerful boost in the nation’s efforts to ensure all South Africans have access to land.
  • Agreements in the clothing and textiles master plan to increase the supply of locally produced clothing in the retail sector to 60% providing a critical boost to thousands of jobs and factories.
  • Engagements on the African Continental Free Trade Area and the African Growth and Opportunities Act which will be key to boosting the economy and creating jobs in South Africa and Africa.
  • South Africa’s successful hosting of the BRICS Plus Summit and the AGOA Forum, including dedicated labour legs where workers’ demands for decent work and fair labour practises have been elevated.

2024 will not only mark the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s democratic breakthrough.  It will serve as a moment to celebrate the many gains we have won and to take stock where serious challenges have been experienced.  We will also head to our 7th democratic elections. 

COSATU and its Affiliates have reaffirmed our support for our ally, the African National Congress (ANC), and will be crisscrossing workplaces across the country to engage workers and voters and persuade them to come out in their numbers and vote for the ANC.  Despite some serious blunders that ANC led governments have made, it remains the only viable political party with a track record of championing working class struggles and of actually delivering them.  It is critical the ANC wins a majority nationally and provincially.  Working class communities cannot afford the chaos of coalition governments.

The Federation will continue to work with the South African Communist Party and the ANC to ensure the Alliance is reconfigured, reasserted as the centre of policy direction for the state, and that government is held accountable for implementing Alliance decisions and election manifestos.

2023 has been a year of international turmoil with workers in many countries under siege.  We condemn in the strongest terms possible the war crimes being committed against the people of Palestine by the Israeli government and support South Africa’s demand that the International Criminal Court hold Israel’s apartheid government accountable for the horrific attacks on the Palestinian people.

COSATU is intensifying its solidarity campaigns with trade unions in Cuba, Venezuela, Palestine, Western Sahara, eSwatini, Zimbabwe and across the world.  The Federation continues to raise the banner of working-class solidarity in key international forums, including the International Labour Organisation, the International Trade Union Congress and the World Federation of Trade Unions. 

This year has marked a year of renewal for the Federation with several affiliates holding historic congresses, including SACTWU, SACCAWU and POPCRU and witnessing a generational transition in leadership.  COSATU has seen its membership remain stable in spite of turbulent economic times and rising numbers of retrenchments.  Many unions, in particular those organising vulnerable workers, have submitted applications to join the Federation as they recognise it as the leading formation to advance workers’ interests. 

Affiliates have grown from strength to strength and proved themselves to be remarkably effective in defending the rights of member and waging campaigns to improve the lives of workers.  Affiliates have defended collective bargaining in both the public and the private sectors and confirmed that when workers are united, they can overcome the most difficult odds and win impressive victories.  Affiliates have waged relentless campaigns in defence of workers from SADTU’s campaigns for schools in townships to well resourced, to NEHAWU, DENOSA, SAMATU, SAEPU, PAWUSA and POPCRU’s efforts to ensure critical vacancies are filled at public healthcare facilities and other frontline public services across the state.  We are increasing support to Affiliates experiencing challenges in sectors where they organise, including SASBO, CWU, AFADWU and CEPPWAWU.

Lastly whilst millions of South Africans will be enjoying a well-deserved break, we honour those workers who will continue to be on duty, from the farm workers who feed the nation, to the police and traffic officers and defence force personnel who keep us safe, to the health workers who will care for those in need, to our retail and hospitality workers who will help those on leave.  Workers are the backbone of this nation.  It is critical employers and society treat them with the dignity they deserve.

Issued by COSATU

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator
Cell: 082 785 0687