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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU end-of-year message

21 December 2010

All South Africans will remember 2010 as the year of the World Cup. For 30 days, from 11 June to 11 July, South Africa was at the centre of the world. We will never forget the atmosphere, as we joined hands with each other and the rest of the world to enjoy what was both a great sporting extravaganza and also a celebration of our common humanity.

It gave us a glimpse of a future in which all South Africans work efficiently and harmoniously together. Organisationally it was a spectacular triumph, utterly confounding all the prophets of doom, especially the British tabloids’ predictions of chaos and crime.

But it was much more than the best-ever World Cup; it was a foretaste of how a future South Africa could look, if we have the political will and national unity.

That is why, immediately after 11 July, COSATU launched its post-World Cup Declaration, which expressed the feeling of so many South Africans at that time - “If we can come together to organise such a successful sporting event, why can we not do the same to tackle all the other challenges we face as a country?”

On the very first item in the Declaration we can claim a victory. We demanded that we must “do everything possible to promote soccer, which remains the biggest and most popular sport, yet is seriously under-developed.”

So last week’s announcement of FIFA’s deposit of $80 million into a 2010 Fifa World Cup Legacy Trust, which will be used to support a wide range of public benefit initiatives in the areas of football development, education, health and humanitarian activities in SA, is a huge step in the right direction. We welcome the assurance that “not a single penny is going to be paid to Safa or any individuals” and we shall help to make sure that every penny is well spent on developing sport.

Sadly we cannot yet claim similar victories towards the more ambitious goals in the other ten clauses of the Declaration, covering poverty, unemployment and inequality, and the crises in our public education and healthcare systems. We have still a long way to go in promoting rural development and ridding the country of crime and corruption, and implementing all the priority commitments in the ANC 2009 Election Manifesto.

Indeed, if we had not hosted the World Cup, there would have been very little to celebrate in 2010. A year ago, in COSATU’s 2009 end-of-year statement we noted “the devastating economic crisis, which continued its rampage throughout the world and hit South African workers very hard”. We highlighted the deepening levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

That was at the end of a worldwide recession, which hit workers internationally. 2010 should have been the year when we came out of the recession, and things started to get better. For most workers, their families and poor communities, however, things have if anything got even worse.

Despite modest growth in the economy, jobs have continued to disappear. A year ago we lamented the fact that unemployment had reached 24.5% in the third quarter of 2009, and that the more realistic expanded definition of unemployment, which includes those who have given up looking for work, had climbed to 34.4%.

Yet a year later the two equivalent figures are even higher - 25.3% and 36.6%! In Limpopo Province the expanded figure for unemployment has reached 45.6%, almost half the workforce!

Since the beginning of 2009 we have lost 1.17 million jobs, plunging 5.85 million more family members of those jobless workers into the ranks of the poor. This represents a job loss bloodbath. Regrettably we declare that this is a black festive season/Christmas just as we have done in the past.

Parallel with this loss of jobs overall is a continuing shift from permanent to temporary employment. The latest report of the Adcorp Employment Index reveals that while jobs overall had declined by an annualised 2,41% by November 2010, the number of permanent workers decreased most, by 2,74%, while the number of temporary workers decreased by only 1,60%. Meanwhile the number of ‘agency’ workers (i.e. those employed by labour brokers) increased by 5.59%.

The Adcorp survey shows that there are nearly 100 000 more labour broker workers than previously estimated. They now represent 6.8% of total employment in South Africa and 23.2% of the country’s temporary and part-time workforce. This is having a devastating negative effect on the levels of pay, job security and benefits for thousands of workers.

As millions of workers settle home for a well deserved break from working life, the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, has published Cabinet-approved draft amendments to various Acts: Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Draft Bill, Employment Equity Amendment Draft Bill, Employment Services Draft Bill and Labour Relations Amendment Draft Bill for comments by 17 February 2011.

The Cabinet statement says that “the amendments have their origins in the growing ‘casualisation’ of work that has become a feature of the South African Labour market over the past decade.”

We welcome the publication of these amendments. It is always better late than never. We are studying all of them to satisfy ourselves that they deliver only one outcome: doing away with the third man in the relationship that should exist between a worker and the employer. We want a total ban of the system that has condemned so many to new slavery by what has become to be known as human traffickers.

The problem of casualisation was brought home tragically just two days ago (19 December) when a casual worker, a member of SACCAWU, was trapped and killed in a mince cutter in the butchery section of a Durban store. He came to work in the morning and accidentally slipped and his head was stuck in the machine. He had been employed as a casual for only two weeks. The trend suggests that he would have been employed as a casual for the rest of his life.

So we are not celebrating yet, as we know that a battle to defend the concept of decent work has only just begun. COSATU is ready to mobilize all genuine workers’ organisations and the poor in defence of the decent work agenda, which cannot live side-by-side with labour broking. We call on workers to use their rest to re-energise themselves and be ready for a mother of all battles in 2011.

In all the areas covered in the Post-World Cup declaration, there has been a lack of real progress. Government ministers have produced several excellent policy papers, most recently the long-awaited New Growth Path, which COSATU and its affiliates are still studying. We shall be finalising our response in a specially convened Central Executive Committee on 10th January 2011.

Then, after a proper process of consultation and engagement, the new policy must be implemented urgently. It must achieve our historic demand for a complete overall of the economy, away from capital-intensive industries to labour-intensive ones, capable of creating decent work opportunities for the millions of the unemployed.

It must focus on building an economy based primarily on manufacturing industry, so that we beneficiate our own resources, using them to add value by turning them into manufactured goods and begin to reach the government’s goal of creating five million decent, sustainable jobs over the next ten years.

We want the economy transformed and demand a real economic CODESA that will produce a deal capable of putting our economy in a completely new pedestal which will aggressively address South Africa’s trio of most stubborn challenges: unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Over the 16 years of democracy, great progress has been made. In 1996, only 3 million people had access to social grants; today it is 15 million. A massive 25% of our population depends on these social grants today. In 1996, 58% of the population had access to electricity, today 80%. In 1996, 62% of the population had access to running water, today 88%. We have built 3.1 million subsidised houses, giving shelter to over 15 million people.

But massive problems remain, mainly as a result of the levels of unemployment, and 2010 has seen too little real action on the ground. The excellent declaration of the ANC’s highly encouraging NGC summed it up well:

“Sixteen years into our democracy, while we have made substantial progress, we have not yet achieved true economic transformation, which should include fundamentally changing the structure of the economy and the distribution of wealth and income in our society... We have to achieve higher levels of growth and ensure that such growth benefits all of society, especially the poor”.

South African remains the most unequal society in the world. The number of South African billionaires nearly doubled, from 16 in 2009 to 31 this year. The country’s 20 richest men enjoyed a 45% increase in wealth.

Top earner in 2009 was Pine Pienaar, CEO of Mvelaphanda Resources, who raked in R63 million in 2009, closely followed by Norbert Platt, CEO of Richement, who got R58 million, and Marius Kloppers, CEO of BHP Billiton who took home R54 million.

At the other extreme, the median wage for all employees is just R2800 a month (R33 600 a year). So Mr Pienaar earns 1875 times as much as the average worker, and 1278 times the wages of the lowest paid worker at one of his own companies, Bauba Platinum.

On average the poorest 10% of earners get R1275 a month, which is 0.57% of total earnings, while the top 10% get R111 733, which is 49.2% of the total!

Yet it is people from this super-rich elite who lecture us on the damage done to the economy by ‘excessive’ wage claims by workers and ‘inflexible’ labour laws. Is it any wonder that so many workers fought back in 2010 in a series of major strikes?

The year began with FAWU members doing battle with Amalgamated Beverages, and ended with NUMSA members taking on the mighty conglomerate BHP Billiton. In between there have been too many disputes to list, but of course we cannot review 2010 without paying tribute to the magnificent public service workers, who staged a historic and ultimately victorious strike.

They displayed unprecedented levels of unity and militancy, and struck a blow on behalf of all the South African workers who have been struggling to reduce the levels of inequality. We are proud of all the thousands of our members who have refused to accept the bosses’ blackmail and fought to improve their miserable wages and working conditions.

The extreme levels of inequality have also contributed to the rising tide of community protests. In 2004, there were 10 such protests; in 2009 it rose to 105, and it has already passed 83 in 2010! These usually occur in informal settlements, where there is close to 100% unemployment, grinding poverty, crime, corruption, xenophobia, the collapse of social and moral values and a constant struggle for basic essential services. Healthcare, education, and transport are minimal or non-existent and the quality of service is abysmal.

Yet often these communities are just next door to the suburbs of the super-rich, in their luxurious mansions with gardens and pools, who can buy world-class healthcare and education and have virtually exclusive access to forms of transport – the Gautrain, airlines and tolled highways – that the poor can never afford to use.

We are sitting on a ticking bomb. As we begin the campaign for the 2011 local government elections, we must find ways to address the problems these poor communities face. COSATU has once again pledged its full support for the ANC, which more than ever is the only party capable of tackling these immense problems.

Contrary to much media speculation, the alliance between COSATU, the ANC, the SACP and SANCO is firm, and remains the key to solving all these problems. We have to tackle them together, along with the broader mass democratic movement. It is highly regrettable that occasional differences of opinion over tactics between Alliance partners should be sensationalised and personalised in the media.

The Alliance Summit in the first week of February 2011 will adopt a programme that will mobilise all progressive minded South Africans of all classes, races and creeds to confront these challenges and reaffirm our unity, shared principles and common heritage.

We must press on with the implementation of all the other tasks identified in the Post-World Cup Declaration.

We have to prioritise building and refurbishing schools to ensure that they all receive adequate support from the education departments at all levels.

We must implement the National Health Insurance Scheme, improve our public hospitals and transform our healthcare system. We have to keep up the good work being done to defeat the scourge of HIV/AIDS to build a healthy nation and improve our country’s life expectancy.

We warmly welcome the reduction in ARV prices announced by Minister of Health Comrade Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, which should make it possible to treat twice as many people living with HIV. We must however continue to ensure that all those who need ARV treatment, especially the poor, receive it.

We need to intensify the campaign against crime and corruption. We must make sure that the 16 days of activism against the abuse of women and children is continued throughout the year and that we bring down the intolerable amount of violent crime.

We applaud the new initiatives taken by various government ministers to investigate and act against corruption. We hope that the tide has turned against those tenderpreneurs who are stealing from the poor to feed their selfish accumulation interests and we will see them facing justice in court in 2011.

COSATU, which has just been celebrating its 25th birthday, has a pivotal role to play in achieving these goals. We have over two million members and a far wider constituency among casual workers, the unemployed and the poor.

While we must not, and will not, neglect our first duty to defend and improve the lives of our members in the workplace, COSATU will continue, as it has done throughout its first 25 years, to campaign on the broader social and political issues.

As the recent Civil Society Conference showed, the federation has the support of a large periphery of community, church, cultural and special interest groups who share our goals. As we keep emphasising, our collaboration with these groups is not anti-government or anti-ANC, but aims to work closely with our allies in government to achieve the policies adopted at the ANC 2007 Polokwane Conference and contained in the 2009 election manifesto.

COSATU sends a message of solidarity to all those workers and oppressed people around the world who are struggling against dictatorship, oppression and poverty – in Palestine, Swaziland, Western Sahara and elsewhere. We renew our call for the release of the Cuban 5 patriots who remain incarcerated in the USA on trumped up charges.

COSATU sends its best wishes to all the students waiting for their Matric results, and congratulates those who pass but urges those who fail not to lose heart. Every young South African has a role to play in transforming our society and we must make sure that opportunities are opened up for them all.

Enjoy your holiday, but don’t forget the HIV/Aids prevention message – Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise. We urge all drivers and pedestrians to obey the rules of the road and bring down the number of tragic deaths on our roads. Don’t drink and drive and come home safely.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)

Congress of South African Trade Unions

1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets

P.O.Box 1019

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24

Fax: +27 11 339-5080/6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za