COSATU statement on Sunday Times Rich List

Federation says report provides definitive answer to claims that worker demands are excessive

South African workers will be even more determined to fight for a living wage after reading of the latest evidence of the obscene levels of wealth and earnings of the bosses whose profits they make through their sweat and toil.

The Sunday Times Rich List - of wealth ownership and earnings - confirms that the world's most unequal society is growing more unequal by the day (see report).

Top earner in 2010 was Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson, who took home the highest-ever monthly earnings ever recorded in a single year - an unbelievable R627.53 million in salary, perks and share options. This easily surpasses the income of the 2009 top earner Pine Pienaar, who made a mere R63 million.

In 2008 Basson's total remuneration was R16.64 million and R24.13 million in 2009, so his 2010 income represented an increase of 2501% over two years. Workers at Shoprite and Checkers should take note of that figure when they submit their next wage claim.

Steven Joffe of Gold Reef Resorts had a 358% increase, to R26.51 million, boosted by a R19.5 million ‘termination bonus' after opting to leave the casino group following its merger with Tsogo Sun.

2010's second-highest-paid executive - BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers - received a total of R77.53-million, a 43% rise on his earnings from 2009. Third-placed Bernard Kantor, Investec's MD, made R56.69-million in 2010.

These figures make nonsense of the argument that companies need to pay such vast amounts in order to retain top skills, because more than 20 of the top 100 highest-paid executives in 2010 are no longer in their positions today.

The figures for wealth ownership show similar massive increases in the fortunes of richest South Africans. The 100 richest people, who collectively own R152.72 billion, have seen their wealth rise by 62.19% in a year.

Top of the pile is Patrice Motsepe, who is ranked 336th on the Forbes list of richest people in the world, with an estimated fortune of R23.36 billion. He has overtaken Lakshmi Mittal, boss of ArcelorMittal, whose wealth has fallen to R20.87 billion.

In third position for the fourth year running is Nicky Oppenheimer of Anglo American who is worth R11.1-billion. Yet the Forbes list says that his wealth is R49.5-billion, the 136th richest person in the world, significantly higher than Motsepe.

Shoprite feature on the wealth ownership list as well as the list of earners. Its chairman, Christo Wiese, is the fourth wealthiest, with a fortune of R10.73 billion, up from R7.3 billion last year. And their retail rivals at Pick n Pay are not far behind. The Ackerman Family Trust is in 7th place with R4.98 billion.

The Rupert family, ranked fourth in 2008, are now in sixth, with wealth of R5.14-billion, significantly more than the R3.13-billion in 2008. Johann Rupert himself is ranked 25th, with R1.3-billion, yet again there is a discrepancy, as Forbes calculate his wealth at R33.98 billion, making him the 219th richest in the world and second only to the Oppenheimer family in South Africa.

COSATU is forging ahead with its Living Wage Campaign, which aims to raise the pathetic levels of workers' wages and start to narrow the huge gap between rich and poor.

Yet we are already hearing from the spokespersons of the rich that the unions' claims are ‘excessive'. These figures provide the definitive answer to that. They prove that South Africa is a rich country, but that the distribution of that wealth leaves just 20 people owning R112.2 billion, while 48% of South Africans - around 24 million people - are living on below the poverty level of R322 a month.

16% of employed workers earn less than R500; 33.4% earn less than R1 000, and 60% earned less than R2 500. Yet employers want more ‘flexible' labour laws so that they can find ways to pay even less, as many are already doing by using labour brokers or employing workers on a casual basis.

The national democratic revolution (NDR) set out to liberate people from their triple oppression on the basis of race, class and gender. At the end of the first decade of democracy, workers were still being triply exploited; COSATU said that in economic terms capital had benefited more that the workers in those ten years.

The Sunday Times Rich List suggests that we shall be saying the same after the second decade, unless we urgently engage in a debate on a wage policy which addresses these massive injustices and starts to implement the NDR.

It is an absolutely deplorable situation and one which the federation, its allies, civil society and the overwhelming majority of our people are not prepared to tolerate. Workers will certainly not stop fighting for real increases in their living standards while such grotesque levels of inequality remain.

Statement issued by Patrick Craven, COSATU national spokesperson, September 5 2011

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