Implement a 40-hour working week without a loss of income – COSATU

Federation says current 45-hour standard must be reduced, casuals moved to 40-hours

COSATU is demanding the implementation of a 40-hour working week without a loss of income

27 February 2019

The Congress of South African Trade Unions in its 13th National Congress resolved to launch a campaign demanding the implementation of a 40-hour working week without loss of income. The 40-hour week demand originates from May Day celebrations of 1886, where workers started to fight for aneight-hour day shift and also from the Freedom Charter that states that all are entitled to a 40-hour working week.

According to section 9(1) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (1997), in South Africa, the maximum ordinary hours of work is 45 hours per week, nine hours in any day if the employee works for five days or less in a week; or eight hours in any day if the employee works on more than five days in a week.

In order to address our demand for a 40-hour week demand, the government agreed that the maximum ordinary hours of work must first be reduced to 45 and progressively towards a 40-hour week and an 8 hour working day and this is set out in item 1 of Schedule 1 to the Basic Conditions of Employment and the Code of Good Practice. It is generally accepted that the reason for reducing working hours to 40 is to create employment. If work that is done by 5 people can be done by 10 people who are not working long hours of 45 hours this could create more jobs.

Currently, South Africa has an unemployment rate of 27.1% but when using the expanded definition our unemployment rate is sitting at 37% which means that close to 10 million people are without jobs. This means that we need more regulation in the labour market because what is causing joblessness is not only technology but also labour flexibility.

The problem of working long hours is bad because it means very few people are employed and they work long hours and do not have time for their families. This places workers at high health and safety risk at the workplace.  We believe that the reduction of working hours will force the bosses to employ more workers thus creating more jobs. Instead of relying on long hours the bosses can also be forced to invest in the skills development of workers in order to increase the worker's productivity and not through long hours of work.

The reduction of working hours to 40 must be done through collective bargaining and sectoral determinations. Sections 51, 55 and 59 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act empower the Minister of Labour on the advice of the Employment Conditions Commission to make a sectoral determination for one or more sector and area. In terms of section 54(3) of the BCEA, the Minister must take into account among others the cost of living, poverty levels, the ability of employers to carry their enterprises, health and safety and wage differentials. The Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) has been replaced by the National Minimum Wage Commission.

In reducing the working hours to a 40 hour week the parties must consider the relevant factors including the impact on the creation of jobs, increased productivity, safety and health of workers. Trade unions must demand a 40 hour week and employers have a duty to negotiate (item 2 schedule 1 to the BCEA). The reduction must be pursued to ensure that workers have a 40 hour week without a pay cut which indirectly means a pay raise. The reduction in working hours is not meant to reduce the costs of labour or the salary bill but to create jobs. 

COSATU demands the following:

- The progressive reduction of the working week from the current 45 hour week to a 40 hour week must be expedited. However, this must be done without workers losing their wages.  This would enhance the much-needed redistribution of income from employers to workers and equal sharing in the income produced in the country. It is for this reason that working hours must be regulated.  

- Trade unions must unite and use their collective power to pressure employers into adopting the 40 hour week.  

- We call for the revision of collective agreements to ensure that they adhere to the 40 hour week.

- Nedlac must prioritise the negotiation of the BCEA to ensure that there is clear timeframe on moving towards the 40 hour week. Through the National Minimum Wage Commission, Nedlac must call upon the Minister of Labour to review all sectoral determinations with a view of ensuring that all workers enjoy their right to a 40 hour week.  

- The working hours of all workers including casuals must be increased to 40 hours per week.  

- A section 77 protest action will be considered as a tool to put more pressure on the government and employers to move towards a 40 hour week with speed and without a wage cut.  

Issued by Sizwe Pamla, National Spokesperson, COSATU, 27 February 2019