No one can change the system by throwing insults at it – COSATU

Federation says NMW a means of putting money in the pockets of the poorest of the working class

COSATU statement on the attacks against the National Minimum Wage, Basic Conditions of Employment and Labour Relations Amendment Bills

10 April 2018 

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has noted the hysterical and frenzied attacks directed at COSATU and other sister federations for having participated in the Nedlac processes that debated the National Minimum Wage, Basic Conditions of Employment and Labour Relations Amendment Bills. COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU have more than three million members combined and represent the overwhelming majority of organised workers, across all sectors of the economy. 

We form the Labour Caucus that represents organised labour at Nedlac.  We have participated extensively for the past three years in negotiations with government, organised business and community on many critical bills at Nedlac.  These engagements have been exhaustive and yielded huge victories for workers and their families and the economy at large.  Whilst we have not achieved all that we wanted, we have scored major victories.

We look forward to the day where we will welcome SAFTU at Nedlac as part of the Labour Caucus, as soon as they can provide the necessary documents. We would like to know how many members they represent and also to know how they manage the money that they get from the workers. These are the requirements that have been put in place as a way of making sure that chancers are not allowed to gatecrash Nedlac and make extravagant and unsubstantiated claims.

COSATU, as the biggest labour federation in the continent, is comfortable and has become used to dealing with desperate public attacks from mendacious assassins representing big business on matters of policy.

We just find it bizarre that we have recently been fielding attacks coming from workers representatives, who are opposed to the process of building a foundation that will help us transform the low wage regime that has characterized our labour market for decades. We will never fall into a trap of attacking other workers, when there is so much work to do to pushback against employers.

Trade Unions are by-products of an exploitative economic system and for them to defend workers and transform the system they have a responsibility to grapple with what is real and arrest their healthy imaginations. The fact is that no one can change the system by throwing insults at it and by chanting slogans that are not based in reality.

We see the National Minimum Wage as means to put money in the pockets of the poorest of the working class and to ensure that no worker is left with slave wages.  It will help them feed their families and increase their purchasing power and drive local economic demand and thus stimulate the economy.

We have made our views very clear that it is not a living wage and therefore it will never be enough. There is no one saying that workers should be paid R20 an hour but our argument is that no one should be paid below R20 an hour as is currently happening to 47% of South African workers. 

Workers will be guaranteed R20 per hour and the only exceptions to this are farm workers, who will be guaranteed at least R18, domestic workers R15 and expanded public and community works programmes R11 per hour.  However these exceptions are to be phased out over the next few years.  Considering that currently 47% of workers earn less than R20 per hour, this will be a giant step forward and help to put money in their pockets and food on their tables.

This figure was not based on our imagination but was based on sound economic reasoning and reality. The same organizations that are pontificating about the inadequacy of the minimum wage have often agreed and settled for lesser wages for their members. If it was adequate  we will not call in a minimum wage.

We have also noted the attacks directed at the proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act and they have been charactarised as tantamount to collapsing workers’ constitutionally guaranteed right to strike.  Again this is not based on any facts and is simply untrue. 

Employers attempted to weaken workers’ right to strike during the Nedlac engagements; however, COSATU working with other members of the labour caucus refused to give in to such spurious attempts.  The amendments to the LRA provide for the following:

- The Minister of Labour can extend collective agreements, where parties are sufficiently representative, including catering for precarious workers.

This assists workers and unions which have battled to achieve majority thresholds due to increasing numbers of workers being outsourced to labour brokers.  Thus agreements that unions have won can be extended and this helps prevent employers from refusing to accept such extensions.

- The amendments allow the CCMA to assist with providing picketing rules where none are agreed to by the employer and employees.

-  It defines a vote as one being done in secret and requires unions to have such provisions in their constitutions.

This has been in the LRA for many years and its adherence was never enforced by the Department.  However unions for years have balloted members before deciding to embark on a strike.  Most unions have always elected their leadership through secret ballots since unions belong to their members. It is puzzling as to why is NUMSA so afraid to allow members to exercise their right to vote upon critical issues that affect their daily wages?

- The amendments allow the CCMA to provide advisory arbitration for prolonged strikes, strikes where negotiations have effectively collapsed or that are of public interest.  Unions already look to the CCMA to assist with prolonged disputes and strikes and this seeks to facilitate that.  It does not at all weaken workers’ right to strike.  If workers are not happy with the advisory arbitration provided by the CCMA they are allowed to reject it since it will not be binding.

COSATU will continue to work to unite workers in order to fight against an increase in the VAT, Fuel Levy and Road Accident Levy. We plan to ensure that workers pushback against company failures to adhere to Health and Safety regulations and prescripts. We have seen 23 deaths in the mining sector this year alone.

We want workers to unite to fight against the ongoing retrenchments and the casualisation that is taking place. Workers have to pushback against retrogressive policies like the recently signed IPP deal and the planned privatization of State Owned Companies. The big company’s preference for mechanisation and the arrival of automation is a huge problem for workers and it something that we can only fight united as workers .

The workers’ most powerful weapon is their unity. We have nothing to gain by spreading union sectarianism and dividing the workers further. We do hope that some unions will abandon their addiction to apocalyptic fiction and join us in the struggle to improve the lives of our members.

Issued by Sizwe Pamla, National Spokesperson, COSATU, 10 April 2018