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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Labour Input to the Presidential Job Summit presented on behalf of COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU by John Gomomo, COSATU President

30 October 1998

Comrade Deputy President
Leaders of the NEDLAC constituencies
Distinguished delegates
Comrades and friends

Today is both the beginning and the end of a long process that started with the recommended of the Labour Market Commission that the President convenes a Job Summit. At the time we remarked that: "We have no in principle problem with a forum aimed at resolving issues of unemployment, job creation job retention. What is needed is for the parties to agree on a broad framework for the summit, aims and objectives, as well as terms of reference."

At one point the summit was in danger of becoming a "labour market flexibility" summit. There were calls by some in business, self appointed labour experts and all those opposed to social transformation, for the BCEA to be held in abeyance until after the Jobs Summit. Further, that all labour laws - existing and proposed - should be submitted to such a summit.

While such calls still persist from some in the lunatic fringe, that danger was averted. The agreements we unveil today, lay emphasis and focus on how to create jobs in the short, medium to long term. It is underpinned by commitment from all NEDLAC constituencies to make resources available for all pilot projects and national programmes before this summit.

Putting aside funding for housing is the appropriate answer to the cry of the unemployed and homeless. Money set aside for the youth brigade deals directly with unemployment amongst the youth, provide infrastructure as well as make a contribution to ending crime in our country. This is a historic moment which while some may not fully appreciate its significance, it indeed brings hope to the unemployed and the majority of workers threatened with retrenchments. The latest census have revealed that while only 10,7% of those who are employed earn more than R4 500. 00, a month, more than a quarter of employed people earn more or less R500. 00, with many more living below the breadline.

The debate and proposals on jobs, is not in the first instance about orthodoxy, ideologies or theory. It is about the need for a national effort by all social forces led by the state to respond to the call of millions who are unemployed, living in poverty, unskilled, homeless and racked by disease including HIV/AIDS. Such an effort is the only way to put the country on a new path of sustainable growth and development. This is the lesson of all major reconstruction efforts of the twentieth century, which we ignore at our peril.

The women of Bolobedu, the youth from Kwamashu, the unemployed from Mqandule and the disabled from Toekomsrus don`t have the luxury of indulging in textbook prescriptions, which remove any hope of meaningful change. Jabu Xulu and Cynthia Gumede`s who are threatened with retrenchment and have no job security, expect job security - hence our support for industrial summits aimed at looking not only on job creation and new investments, but also looking at the impact of tariff liberalisation on existing and new jobs.

Labour called on the government and business to join hands with us on the fight against retrenchments by among others, declaring a moratorium on retrenchments, as well as taking a fresh look at section 189 of the LRA to ensure we don’t add to human suffering by throwing more people, through no fault of their own, into the desperation of joblessness. We are bitterly disappointed at the failure to reach agreement on job security measures, and this will be one of our urgent post-summit priorities.

Together with the unemployed - some of whom have just recently been retrenched, Jabu and Cynthia see the current situation of unemployment and job loss as a crisis of major proportions, which requires a national response which rises to the challenge. Mere tinkering with the problem, or relying on the trickle-down effect of market driven solutions will simply see us sinking deeper into the morass.

While today`s summit responds to our own situation, we should also take cognisance of the economic global crises. This is not only a financial crises as some would want us to believe. Neither is it some Malaysian flu. It is a failure of the Washington Consesus "one size fits all", which for more than a decade has been put forward as the onramp to economic prosperity. This crisis has plunged most developing countries into recession. It has led to massive capital outflows as well as devastating some powerful economies. International consensus is growing that these policies lead to poverty and deprivation. This vindicates our view that nations must take decisive action to implement measures to reassert their sovereignty over their economic destiny.

The concrete experience of increasing inequality, continuing failures of development and heightened financial instability which threatens even the developed and industrialised parts of the world, has led to great flux in international economic thinking, characterised by an increasing suspicion of unregulated markets and by a renewed appreciation of the key role of the state in economic development.

This change in thinking provides an opportunity for us to shape economic policy including macro-economic policy, designed to allow a more assertive developmental role to be played by the state in overcoming our anti-developmental apartheid legacy. As is outlined in the declaration, we did not come here to debate the merits and demerits of the GEAR policy. Our views on it are fairly known. It is for this matter that we are heartened by the acknowledgement that the target will not be met and therefore needs to be adjusted.

The problem we have is the notion of keeping GEAR’s basic infrastructure in place. We think in the face of the acknowledgement of its failures, as well as the international crises, we need to move beyond mere adjustment to real changes that includes the structure or framework. We should all agree that as part of the post Job Summit process, we should put in place a process of engagement to deal with this matter.

Labour believes in the need for a Marshall Plan, which targets unemployment, poverty and inequality on a massive scale. Guided by this perspective we unapologetically, put forward a comprehensive set of proposals in the negotiations. These proposals are aimed at intervening in a crisis, which threatens to engulf us all.

We are disappointed at the failure to reach agreement on a framework, propose by ourselves for dealing with all the issues involved in productivity improvements, job security related to productivity, how the gains of such improvement will be shared, etc. We hope that both government and business will pay attention to this matter, otherwise none of them should in future raise this matter until such time that they are committed to the draft agreement.

We have made a lot of progress on the macro-economic statement, more indeed than we thought possible at the start of the process. We must record however that full agreement was not reached. The Declaration contains one phrase which may be interpreted as support for Gear. Our opposition to Gear remains unshaken, though the debate has gone way beyond a sloganistic position by government or labour.

While the package before us does not address every issue we have raised, it represents the beginning of a process to create sustainable jobs as well as ensure job security. For this reason we will sign the Declaration as support for the overall package. Of specific importance is the agreement on,

  • Financial regulations which if implemented may redirect resources to productive investment.
  • The agreement on tariffs will lead to stemming job loss as well as enhance job creation.
  • The funding mechanism as well as a commitment to serious consideration to legislative mechanisms, should the current agreements fail. These will help release resources for housing, youth employment, women, disabled and all other programmes and pilot projects agreed by the summit.
  • Public sector restructuring will enhance service delivery, create jobs as well as provide job security
  • Provision of housing - particularly rental stock - will create jobs, link to economic development and other provision of basic services.
  • Industrial summits will look at among others the issue of tariffs, job security, and promotion of worker rights

An issue which is often raised by our detractors, is that of the need for a stable industrial climate. No one is opposed to a process that promotes stable industrial relations. However a climate will not come about like manna from heaven. It requires a commitment to transform the work place, an unambiguous statement and commitment by all stakeholders to support all labour legislation which as we know are aimed at giving effect to the rights as enshrined in the constitution. It is worth noting that all labour legislation has been the result of painstaking negotiations, and no party should irresponsibly try to upset the foundations we are creating for an equitable and prosperous society.

I now call on Mbhazima Shilowa to present the Pledge by Labour.