COSATU Central Executive Committee Statement 

29 February 2024 

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) convened its first Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting for the year from 26 to 28 February. 

2023 was a difficult year for the working class.  We hope 2024 will mark a change for the better for workers.

We share the pains of the families of the 9 members of the African National Congress (ANC) who tragically passed away on their way home from the launch of the 2024 Elections Manifesto at Moses Mabhida Stadium as well as the recent passing of the President of Namibia, Dr. Hage Geingob.  We wish their families well and a speedy recovery for those injured.

COSATU welcomes progress in reducing unemployment by 5% over the course of 2023, but it remains dangerously high at 41% with a youth unemployment rate of 60%. 

The rise in the costs of living has taken a heavy toll on working class families, with an 18.65% increase in the electricity tariff in 2023 and a pending 12% increase in 2024.  Fuel prices peaked at R25 a litre and the Reserve Bank increased the repo rate by 475 basis points over the past 18 months. 

Government needs to do more to protect workers and the economy from inflation, in particular to reduce the 28% of the fuel price going towards taxes, to invest in public transport and for the Reserve Bank to begin lowering the repo rate as inflation falls.

COSATU appreciates work being done to rebuild Eskom and ease loadshedding from a peak of 12 hours a day in the beginning of 2023 to less than 2 hours a day now.  It is critical more support be given to Eskom to ensure the economy has reliable and affordable electricity.

We remain deeply concerned by the impact the challenges at Transnet are having on the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors.  These pose a threat to thousands of jobs and tax revenue.  Whilst progress has been made in easing port congestion in the past two months, more needs to be done to avert a jobs bloodbath in the mining sector where thousands of retrenchment notices have already been issued.  We cannot afford to lose a single job.

Interventions are needed at the Road Accident Fund, Metro Rail, the Post Office and Postbank, Denel and the SABC as well as the growing number of dysfunctional municipalities.  36 municipalities routinely fail to pay their employees.  The Post Office is preparing to retrench 6 000 workers.

COSATU is deeply concerned by the state of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, in particular the painful difficulties workers experience when applying for their monies and the continuous allegations of serious corruption surrounding UIF investments.  Plans to overhaul and modernise the UIF must be expedited.  Law enforcement needs to ensure those implicated in corruption are dealt with.

We welcome the proposed overhauling of our immigration laws.  The current levels of undocumented and illegal migration are not sustainable.  A comprehensive approach is needed to place migration on a manageable path and to pressure neighbouring and other states to address the root causes.

We are pleased with critical victories we have been secured in the Alliance, at Nedlac and in Parliament, in particular the:

·       Two Pot Pension Reforms currently before Parliament and scheduled for implementation on 1 September 2024 that will bring relief to millions of indebted public and private sector workers.  This is a major victory that COSATU has driven since 2020.

·       Municipal Systems Amendment Act’s ban on all 350 000 municipal workers from holding office in a political party being declared unconstitutional by the Labour Court and reaffirming workers’ hard won constitutional rights of freedom of expression and political association.

·       Public Service and Public Administration Management Amendment Bills where similar clauses undermining the rights of public servants and collective bargaining were removed.

·       National Minimum Wage which has raised the wages of 6 million workers and where a positive 8.5% increase for 2024 comes into effect on 1 March.  More needs to be done to deal with employers who refuse to abide by the National Minimum Wage Act.  COSATU will pursue legal action in defence of the National Minimum Wage where needed. 

·       National Health Insurance Bill laying the foundation for universal health care.

·       Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Act increasing protections of farm workers from unfair and inhumane evictions.

COSATU is pleased with the State of the Nation Address’ progressive commitments to transform the SRD Grant into the long sought Basic Income Grant as well as to expand the Presidential Employment Stimulus to help millions of young people find jobs.

The Federation notes the 2024/25 Budget.  We appreciate that it was a very difficult balancing act and that the Budget contains both progressive interventions, worrying cut backs and missed opportunities.

We will continue to engage government on the need to move away from an austerity approach to the Budget towards a more aggressive package stimulating the economy, reducing unemployment, providing relief to the poor, rebuilding the state and SOEs, and tackling crime and corruption. 

Contrary to misleading neo-liberal propaganda, the Budget has confirmed that the wage bill is not out of control and in fact has fallen from 35% to 31% of the budget. We are concerned about the impact this is having upon the ability of the state to retain the skilled professionals necessary to provide the quality public services society depends upon.

The increase in the police headcount is welcome.  This should be extended to other key frontline services, in particular health, education, Home Affairs, the NPA and the courts.

2024 will be a year of great importance for workers with our most contested elections since 1994.  COSATU and our Affiliates have reaffirmed our support for the Alliance and a decisive victory for our ally, the ANC nationally and provincially.  The Federation is of a firm view that the National Democratic Revolution, steered by the ANC led alliance, is our only programme, with all its contradictions and challenges, to transform our society.

Whilst we are disappointed by mistakes made by government, we appreciate the many decisive gains workers have won since 1994 and under the current 6th administration led by President Cyril Ramaphosa.  The Alliance led by the ANC remains the only progressive and viable vehicle to advance working class struggles. 

Workers are therefore called upon to defend the gains of our national democratic revolution by going to vote to ensure a decisive victory of the ANC on the 29th May 2024.

COSATU has established its elections war rooms with Affiliates working flat out across workplaces and communities to mobilise voters to return the ANC to office in May.  We cannot afford to risk the gains working class communities have won since 1994 to political parties that promise to gut the public service, roll back social upliftment programmes and collapse our progressive labour laws.

The Federation and Affiliates have been engaging workers across the country, on their experiences, hopes and proposals on how to improve their lives.  We have been heartened by the trust they continue to place in their Federation and the ANC. 

We are particularly pleased by the enthusiasm workers have shown as we mobilised across Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal for the very successful January 8th ANC Anniversary rally in Mbombela and more recently, the launch of the ANC’s elections Manifesto. 

The Manifesto is a product of robust engagements within the Alliance and with progressive civil society.  It provides a roadmap to build upon the successes of the past 30 years, to resolve the current challenges facing society and build a better life for all over the next 5 years.

The Federation will work with the ANC and the South African Communist Party to ensure government deployees are held accountable for the implementation of the Manifesto beyond the 29th of May.

COSATU rejects the shameful threats to the right of teachers and any other worker to support the important work of the Independent Electoral Commission in the upcoming elections.

COSATU is intensifying support for Affiliates experiencing challenges in their sectors as well as recruitment programmes targeting unorganised sectors and vulnerable workers as well as campaigns on health and safety, retrenchments, living wages, a Just Energy Transition, crime and corruption.

Workers will be gathering in their numbers at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town on the 1st of May to celebrate Workers’ Day for the national celebrations with similar events in all other Provinces too.

We are heartened by the increasing sense of unity amongst Organised Labour, including the adoption of a militant programme of action in defence of workers’ rights at the recent Nedlac Labour School.

COSATU commends the progressive work done by the South African Government to show practical solidarity with the Palestinian people through its interventions at the International Court of Justice against the apartheid Israeli regime’s genocidal conduct.

The Federation applauds the International Labour Organisation’s referral of the right to strike and unionise to the International Court of Justice.  We will be engaging our sister unions across the world to pressure their governments to support this just cause.

We will continue working with government to expand South Africa’s trade opportunities through strategic trade agreements with Africa, the BRICS nations, the European Union and the United States.

Whilst 2023 has been a year of difficulties and achievements, 2024 will place even greater challenges on the working class and the trade union movement.  We are confident the Federation and our Affiliates are battle ready, not only to tackle the failures of capital but also to advance the cause of building socialism.  Workers are looking to COSATU for leadership.  We dare not fail them.

COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe.

Issued by COSATU.