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Conferences  |  COSATU Press Statements

Opening remarks by COSATU President, Comrade, Sdumo Dlamini at the International Gender Conference at St Georges Conference Centre, Irene, 9 June 2015

9 June 2015

As COSATU, we are pleased to have been invited to speak at this important meeting which is about the essence of measuring progress in society.

We can only wish that this meeting does not spent more time on theoretical debates rather than on providing solutions and developing proposals on how the burning questions confronting our society can best be addressed.

This meeting has a responsibility to give us instructions on what we should do when the ILO report tells us that only one quarter of the world’s working population holds a permanent and stable job.

The ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook—Trends 2015 report tells us that that three-quarters of workers are “employed on temporary or short-term contracts, in informal jobs often without any contract, under own-account arrangements or in unpaid family jobs.

The report tells us that the share of workers employed on a permanent basis has declined in recent years, from 74 percent in 2004 to 73.2 percent in 2012. For males this decline has been even sharper, with the share working on permanent contracts falling from 73.1 percent.

The 2014 Global wage report told us that real wage growth lagged behind labour productivity growth over the period 1999 to 2013.”

This means that throughout the 14-year period, the share of national income going to the working class declined, while the share of national income going to the capitalists, a tiny minority of the population, steadily increased.

Another study conducted by Dr. Carlos Nordt of Zurich University’s Psychiatric Hospital tells us that around 45,000 people commit suicide each year because they have become unemployed. It shows that for the year 2008, the beginning of the economic crisis, suicides associated with unemployment were nine times greater than previously thought.

All these are issues which are essentially gender issues because high levels of unemployment and poverty affect women and children the most; it destroys families and lives the fabric of our societies in tatters.

A 2014 UNICEF report showed that the number of children in poverty in developed countries has increased by 2.6 million since 2008 and that there are 76.5 million children in poverty in the 41 countries surveyed by UNICEF.

The report states that the ability of governments to provide social services in some of the country’s most affected by the 2008 crash has been “hindered by the weight of the conditions imposed on them by the financial markets and the providers of financial assistance.”

As a condition for emergency funding by the International Monetary Fund to pay for their massive bank bailouts, countries such as Greece, Portugal and Cyprus were forced to slash spending on social services.

The cuts have had a dramatic impact on the well-being of children.

This meeting must provide answered to these burning issues confronted by our people on a daily basis.

This meeting has mo luxury of theorising, important as it is do so when we all know that patriarchy is still pervasive in our society and is also evident in the workplace.

When the cascading effects of economic contraction and falling household income hit girls and women hard, it affects the entire society.

Primary caregivers are usually women and girls. In both developed and developing countries, women are increasingly the main income earners as male unemployment rises and women take up one or more lower-paying jobs, typically in service jobs.

Due to unaffordable school fees and transportation costs—no doubt exacerbated by war and political instability—children in Egypt, Sudan and Yemen have been taken out of school.

Before the onset of the crisis, 46 percent of girls completed primary school in Yemen, compared with 74 percent of boys. In Nigeria, girls are 10 percent more likely than boys to drop out now than they were in 2007.

Entrenched gender roles result in girls being kept at home when mothers take on more work. Many women must work long hours for little pay, leaving the basic needs of the household in the care of their daughters.

Girls are also being married off earlier, placing them in danger of dying in childbirth, a leading cause of death for those under 20.

Among girls aged 10-16 living in Brazil, parental unemployment sharply increased the likelihood that they would drop out of school to find work.

For 16 year-old girls, the likelihood is about 50 percent.

Young women in both developed and developing countries are worse affected by current high unemployment.

Close to the onset of the crisis, the world saw one of the highest youth unemployment levels ever recorded, 79 million people aged 15-24 unemployed.

Considered secondary earners and occupying low-wage, low-skill jobs, women and girls are more likely to lose their jobs.

In North Africa, women’s unemployment increased by more than 9 percentage points, compared with men’s unemployment increasing 3.1 points. In Cambodia, 17 percent of all garment workers—50,000—were made jobless due to the crisis.

In poor countries, when girls end up working instead of going to school, they often seek work as domestics.

This means taking on multiple risks by migrating, working for little pay and working inside people’s homes. Removed from the public sphere, abuse of domestic workers often remains hidden.

This is the reality that must guide how we should shape the international labour market in particular around our demands for decent work We cannot have endless debates when we all know that women continue to bear the greatest brunt of HIV and AIDS.

We cannot sit here and spend endless hours on discussions without developing a programme to address the painful reality that women are continuously side-lined and still lack requisite confidence to take up leadership positions in our organisations, in our community and political structures.

Everything we say here will be rendered useless if it those in authority do not include women who are at the coal face of this reality.

This meeting must tell us what we should do to respond to the fact that even though women are increasingly occupying leadership position but the fact remains that women remain marginalised when it comes to making key decisions in the economy.

The scourge of gender-based violence is increasing drastically; affecting both women and children in our communities.

There are high incidents of human trafficking through which women and children are treated as sex objects.

We have allowed job evaluation and grading systems to be dictated by management and that these systems continue to place the majority of women at the bottom end of the wage scale and in more vulnerable positions of employment.

These grading systems and job evaluations are implemented without due regard for the need to transform workplaces in South Africa and the imperative of gender equity.

We have made good progress in the gender equity in employment through the training and promotion of women into positions traditionally perceived to be “men’s work”, but many employers continue to resist the training and promotion of women.

Our collective bargaining tends to emphasise wage increases at the expense of other improvements in conditions of employment, in particular reproductive issues such as maternity protection, child care, reproductive health and wellness and transport subsidies.

Our persistent tabling of across the board percentage increase demands is contributing to the ever increasing wage gap between lowest and highest paid, and that this in turn is entrenching unequal pay between women and men.

Full access to maternity protection is not yet enjoyed by most vulnerable women workers such as women working in farms, domestic workers and sex workers.

The continued criminalization of sex work has a discriminatory element as only women are charged and not their clients who solicit their services.

It is therefore important that we wage campaign to force our governments to establish a fund that will not only support women’s business initiatives and address their challenges related to access but will also support skilling women for non-business related work such as engineering.

We must lobby for a special subsidy to enable access to basic resources such as water, electricity and fuel for poor households headed by women or children.

We should wage a campaign to ensure that collective bargaining and Employment Equity is used to support gender equality in the workplace.

To campaign for the establishment of childcare facilities in the workplace. To take active steps to close gender wage gaps.

As part of our campaign for Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value, to take urgent steps to empower negotiators to understand and critique current job grading practices, with a view to developing alternative systems;
- To continue to demand the training and promotion of women into jobs traditionally reserved for men.
- To ensure that our settlements consistently include gender equity issues, and that these issues are not compromised.
- To call for Bargaining Councils adopt policies on gender parity among representatives in their structures
- We should use available research capacity to conduct a study on a possible strategy to counter the feminisation of poverty (low wages). The impact of labour broking on women. The impact of the informalisation of work on women. The meaning of decent work for women workers.
- To campaign for the realisation of maternity rights for all working women, to launch a campaign to ensure that government ratifies ILO Convention 183 and Recommendation R191 on Maternity Protection convention , and to campaign for the establishment of a dedicated Maternity Protection Fund, separate to UIF.
- To ensure that every workplace has a sexual harassment policy, and that each work place should have a specialist trained shop steward/s who deals with sexual harassment cases.

We wish this Gender conference all the success.