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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address to the 3rd NEDLAC Summit by Connie September, COSATU 1st Vice President on behalf of COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU

16 May 1998

President Nelson Mandela
Distinguished guests and delegates
Leaders of the constituencies of government, communities and business

As we look back on a year of negotiations and social dialogue, we are able to reflect progress as outlined in the Executive Director’s Report tabled to us here today, and to identify challenges which we have not met completely.

Through the process of social dialogue, we have been able to address some fundamental problems in our society. Encouraging progress has been made. These relate among others to skills development in the economy, employment equity programmes to address the legacies of the past, and consideration of many social and economic issues. One of the gains of the democratic process, a fine achievement of our country’s people, has been the extensive processes of social dialogue, which has deepened our democracy and given effect to the goal of greater economic participation.

I wish to focus today on one crucial set of challenges for the future, instead of reviewing the past.

A few years ago, we introduced Jabu Xulu and Cynthia Gumede to you, two members of the trade union movement. We told you of their work, and their family life. The good news is that Jabu and Cynthia are alive. Are they well? Let us see.

How would they characterise the challenges of the year ahead?

Imagine Jabu Xulu was on the shop-floor, making a speech, and I quote:

"Our history has been a bitter one dominated by colonialism, racism, apartheid, sexism and repressive labour policies. The result is that poverty and degradation exist side by side with modern cities and a developed mining, industrial and commercial infrastructure. Our income distribution is racially distorted and ranks as one of the most unequal in the world - lavish wealth and abject poverty characterise our society…we need an economy which will eliminate poverty, low wages and extreme inequalities in wages and wealth generated by the apartheid system, meet basic needs, and thus ensure that every South African has a decent living standard and economic security...[and] ... create productive employment opportunities at a living wage for all South Africans.'

How would that speech be viewed? Perhaps Jabu would be called a radical, perhaps he would be reminded of the new global realities. Yet the words I quoted are from the RDP Base document.

This expresses the dilemma we face: what is needed in terms of social and economic policy sounds radical, and challenges the current orthodox economic policies advanced by the multilateral institutions.

Yet without these, any hope of social justice and a fair and equitable society is gone, and we join those societies caught in widening social inequalities.

For organised labour, a key set of challenges relate to that of jobs. If we were to conduct a snap survey of everyone today on what you consider to be the single issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority, most would cite unemployment or job creation as a national priority.

This would be said ironically, at precisely the time when there are massive retrenchments of workers in the private and public sector.

We recognise the significance of the position by President Mandela in his state of the nation address to parliament early this year which characterised the forthcoming Presidential Jobs Summit as the biggest challenge since the 1994 general elections.

Most of us in various fora have also promoted this idea of a Jobs Summit as indicative of our commitment to create jobs and thus reduce unemployment. This has in turn created high expectations from the country for immediate tangible results from the summit. The biggest challenge we face as the Nedlac constituencies is to ensure that we do not fail the nation.

This will require the development of a common strategy for employment creation in the short, medium to long term, which should guide the outcome of the Jobs Summit.

It is with this in mind that organised Labour as represented by COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU has placed before the country a proposed strategy to tackle the scourge of unemployment. Our policies are built on South African realities, and put our country, its workers and its citizens first rather than attempt to copy the failed policies of the IMF and the World Bank.

We note with disappointment the policy position by the South African Foundation, which advances this agenda. Social dialogue is difficult when important voices in one constituency calls for policies which attempts to undermine the fundamental values in the constitution and Bill of Rights, insofar as it is a call to undermine collective bargaining and worker organisation, and rely instead solely on the exercise of power by the wealthy over the poor, the powerful over the powerless.

In so far as our specific and detailed proposals are concerned, these are contained in our submission to Nedlac. We propose among others the following:

  • Measures to prevent job loss

    In order to make a real contribution to resolving the ever-growing crisis of unemployment, the Jobs Summit should develop policies which prevent job loss both in the private and public sector. Promises of new jobs are not convincing if raised at the same time as announcements for retrenchments of teachers and other public servants in the name of GEAR. The same applies to the tendency by businesses to resort to retrenchment very quickly and very easily.

    We therefore call on both the government and the private sector to agree to a moratorium on retrenchment not only to create a climate conducive to negotiations, but because we need to save and create jobs at the same time.

  • Employment creation measures

    The state and the private sector should commit themselves to support and implement job creation through areas such as

    • public works
    • mass housing programmes
    • job sharing
    • training the workforce
    • increasing productivity and
    • land distribution.

    Labour has tabled its proposals for the construction and financing of housing, in a programme which we believe will create many thousands of new jobs directly, and will have tremendous job multiplier benefits throughout the economy.

    It will be an excellent development if the speaker from business was to embrace training and active labour market policies, without qualification. Come on, chaps, we are waiting.

    Appropriate macro economic policies, directed at growth, not contraction, are vital.

  • Support measures for the unemployed

    In a country with no social security, we believe that it is important to institute measures to support the unemployed. There are a number of specific proposals we have.

    1. First, a system of payments for workers who are unemployed, more substantial in scale than the current UIF, and applicable to a wider group than those who qualify now.
    2. Second, training in vocations and skill areas where jobs are expanding.
    3. Third, active labour market measures to assist the unemployed to be placed in available jobs. In this regard, a possible incentive to employers to employ the long term unemployed must be considered.
  • Measures to formalise the informal sector

    Many commentators and policy makers argue that new jobs will emerge from small and medium enterprises. It is important for us to break the concentration of economic power and to promote small and medium enterprises.

    At the same time steps should be taken to formalise the informal sector both in terms of support measures such as financial assistance to set up administration and marketing, new product development and training; and in requiring compliance in areas such as taxation and worker rights .

    When we do this, we can encourage the many black workers and entrepreneurs in the informal economy to derive the benefits of participation in the formal sector, and also contribute more effectively to the growth of the measurable economy.

  • Identification of long term issues and processes to be negotiated after the Presidential Jobs Summit

    It will be wrong to create an impression that a day after the Jobs Summit, there will be new jobs all over the country. At the same time as we emerge with short to medium term measures for job creation we need to develop a process by which long term issues can be identified and negotiated.

    One of these is the framework within which an employment strategy can evolve. It does not help to pursue budget deficit at the expense of a widening social deficit. Neither is it proper for the private sector and the media to call on government to stick to GEAR while headline after headline is calling for its review, and acknowledging its failure to deliver on jobs.

    As Labour we remain opposed to the basic thrust of the GEAR strategy. We do not support its approach to fiscal and monetary policies, which continue to see major cuts in government spending on social security and basic infrastructure as well as continued rising interest rates. And jobs have not been delivered as set out in Gear. The effect of these policies is to choke the much-needed economic growth and employment creation. It is also this strategy which has led the government to renege on the three-year agreement with the public sector unions.

    A year ago all seemed bleak. Today, it appears the time is ripe for a comprehensive review of the framework of economic policy.

    In addition to the challenge to create new jobs and defend existing jobs, we need to address too the quality of jobs. Jobs at poverty wages need to be changed, through industrial and labour market policy measures, into jobs capable of paying good wages, at reasonable hours of work.

    And one important mechanism for this is collective bargaining, particularly at sectoral level. Employers and trade unions have used these tools for many years now. We need to strengthen them.

    One area we remain concerned about is the wide wage disparities in our society, between top and bottom, disparities which the new employment equity legislation ought to address, but which it has not done.

So, for Cynthia Gumede, the future is one which must deal with jobs. Quantity of jobs and quality of jobs. And what we have outlined is the thrust of the jobs program which her trade union is tabling at Nedlac.

We call on our people, on organised workers, on the unemployed, and on the democratic government to take steps to have this programme implemented now.

We require fresh social and economic policies for the new democracy, policies which mark a clear and decisive break with the policies of apartheid.

Thank you.