This year’s SONA lacks decisiveness – NEHAWU

Union expected president to take a more bold approach

NEHAWU response to the 2020 State of the Nation Address

14 February 2020

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union [NEHAWU] notes the tabling of the State of the Nation Address [SONA] by President Cyril Ramaphosa before the joint sitting of parliament on the 13th February 2020.

This year’s State of the Nation Address coincided with the 30th Anniversary celebrations of the release of our national hero, international icon, and a revolutionary the late founding President of the Republic, Comrade Nelson Mandela. The 2020 SONA was presented in a socio-economic context of deepening levels of unemployment, poverty, social inequalities, social unrests and strife in our communities.

The economy is in doldrums, we are currently facing the worst post-apartheid economic crisis characterised by economic stagnation, high levels of de-industrialisation, lack of security of energy supply while most of our state-owned enterprises are in a state of collapse and workers in most sectors of the economy are losing jobs.

As NEHAWU, we were expecting that the President would provide bold and decisive leadership including a coherent plan that would take us on a path of recovery, broad based reindustrialisation and growth.

Unfortunately and regrettable this year’s SONA lacks decisiveness, boldness and leadership. It does not break from the business as usual mentality and approach, it was the same of the old. The national union is deeply disappointed by the fact that though the country has convened both the jobs and investments summit last year there is little progress to show when it comes to the scourge of unemployment and retrenchments in our country.

Business and government continues to renege and are undermining the commitment to the moratorium on retrenchments. NEHAWU shall continue to resist attacks on hard worn rights and conditions of employment of our members and to fight all austerity measures that are aimed at weakening the capacity of the state.

We note that the President stated that government is engaged with unions on reducing spending. NEHAWU wants to indicate upfront that:

·       These discussions are on the macroeconomic situation, in which government has raised concerns about the public debt, budget-deficit, debt-service costs and the wage bill.

·       It is understood that these discussions are not collective bargaining engagements on the salaries and conditions of service-we would never allow the undermining of this and this is understood by government.

·       That the current wage agreements are sacrosanct and not open for review.

Moreover, we continue to be worried by the overreliance on misguided Neoliberal macroeconomic policy framework while the unemployment rate rises on a daily basis, deepening inequalities and majority of our people still living in abject poverty. We condemn the lack action on corruption including state capture in which there is adequate evidence of wasting of public resources and probable culprits. We had expected that the President will address the implementation of the Auditor General’s findings and recommendations to prevent wastages and corruption.

NEHAWU calls for the end of the haemorrhaging of vast resources of the state by outsourcing and agencification, including the numerous entities that are useless and unnecessary such as SANRAL and demand an immediate end to the unending bail-outs of incompetently run and corrupted SOEs.

We join the President in welcoming the progress made by the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Training Programme in Cuba which has produced more than 1200 doctors up to date. We are looking forward to welcoming the 640 doctors who are expected to graduate in December 2020 and demand that the national department must not to allow this critical project to collapse as a result of the refusal by provinces to fund it. With the imminent implementation of the National Health Insurance [NHI] the country needs more doctors and specialised skills to ensure that the public has access to primary healthcare.

We welcome the building of nine new TVET college campuses this year, in Sterkspruit, Aliwal North, Graaff Reinet and Ngungqushe in the Eastern Cape, and in Umzimkhulu, Greytown, Msinga, Nongoma and Kwagqikazi in KwaZulu-Natal. We, further support the proposed spending of R64 billion over the next years in student accommodation.

As a progressive union in the public sector, we welcome the fact that R700 billion has been earmarked for social housing, rail freight branch lines, embedded electricity generation, municipal bulk infrastructure, and broadband roll-out. We further commend government for announcing that a new university will be built in Ekurhuleni Metro, we are looking forward to see the detailed plan.

We support the process of developing industrial policy master plans across different sectors, we will continue to participate and shape the development of the Health Economy Master plan.

As progressive trade union movement, we support measures to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund and the State Bank, this announcement must be welcomed by all progressive forces because it takes forward successive ANC congress resolutions. We will await the details from the Treasury when they announce the modalities.

We welcome the establishment of the Presidential Commission on Climate Change as a tripartite platform to deal with climate and just transition issues. Our representatives will continue to participate in development of the climate change bill. 

The national union remains vehemently opposed to any austerity, wage cuts, and attack on hard worn gains of workers. As a democratic, worker control union, we are opposed to unilateral imposition of reactionary economic policies that have not been subjected to democratic processes in NEDLAC and other institutions such as the neoliberal Treasury document. We looking forward the tabling of the National Budget and will oppose any shift to the neoliberal agenda.

Issued by Khaya Xaba, NEHAWU National Spokesperson, 14 February 2020