South Africa's predator unions

Jack Bloom on COSATU's very own hyena-like tendency

I observed a number of things on my visits to strike-hit hospitals. Firstly, those with the worst reputations had the highest worker stay away. Nurses who were notorious for poor care at Natalspruit Hospital found it easy to abandon babies who would have died if not sent to a private hospital. They certainly don't deserve any increase and should be fired. And where was the caring ethos of those who barred gates and prevented sick patients from entering? Or those who invaded a surgery at the Tambo Memorial Hospital while an operation was in progress? Criminal charges should be laid against them.

At the better hospitals, most nurses tried to attend, but intimidation was fierce. Everybody was dressed in normal clothes, and feared being attacked outside.

It doesn't take much for even a small group of people to intimidate effectively. As the CEO of Chris Hani Baragwanath pointed out to me, the hospital has 6900 staff, but there were only about 200 demonstrators at the entrance. Some of these were striking teachers.

We would have been in real trouble if security was on strike as well, but fortunately this is outsourced to private companies. If cleaners, porters and catering were also outsourced, as at the Chief Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban, the strike effect would have been very limited.

The lunacy of this strike is that it affected so many highly divergent sectors seeking a one-size-fits-all wage increase. Hardly any thought was given to productivity deals or performance-related increments.

Home affairs officials, customs clerks, doctors, nurses, teachers, support staff - all were lumped together. There should be different bargaining chambers for different sectors.

This would not only lead to better-structured pay deals, it would also avoid national public service strikes that paralyze the country. It would be even better if each hospital negotiated separately with its workers.

None of this suits the power-political games of COSATU, which likes the leverage of national negotiations.

According to South African Reserve Bank statistics, the public sector wage bill has increased on average by 6.5% above annual inflation for the past 8 years.

Whereas public servants make up 21 percent of the national workforce, their salaries make up 28 percent of the national salary bill.

Economist Mike Schussler says that 20 years ago public servants were paid less than those in the private sector, but now get R14 000 a month on average, compared to less than R10 000 in private businesses.

He calls the public sector "the new elite" as even cleaners in government get R5000 a month. All this is paid for by the private sector that will create fewer jobs if taxes go up to pay the swollen public service.

Meanwhile, more than six million unemployed would be grateful for any job at all. They suffer most from unionized teachers, nurses and civil service workers who provide poor service.

They don't have an alternative to a public hospital and their children's education has been wrecked by the strike. They are shut out of the job market by the rigid labour laws that COSATU defends to the death. COSATU's destructive actions make them also a part of the "predatory elite", the charge that Zwelinzima Vavi rightly lays at ANC bigwigs.

Jack Bloom is a DA member of the Gauteng legislature. This article first appeared in The Citizen.

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