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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements


October 14, 1997

This week marks the beginning of the end of a lengthy debate about employment legislation to provide for a basic floor of rights for all workers, with the tabling of the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill ("The Bill"). The outcome of the parliamentary deliberations will determine whether we have a progressive Bill, in line with the Ministries five year programme, and the RDP, or whether forces opposed to worker rights will triumph.

COSATU welcomes the fact that the Minister has finally agreed to our view that negotiations in Nedlac are not endless, and that the Bill needs to be finalised by our elected representatives in parliament. Since the release of the draft Bill on 18 April 1997, we have called on him to place it before parliament instead of rewarding employers for their delaying tactics.

We know that parties such as the IFP, DP, NP, FF and ACDP will oppose the bill even in its current form, particularly in those areas where the Bill improves the existing Basic Conditions of Employment Act. These are parties that pay lip service to improvement of the lives of all South Africans. In reality, they are only concerned about the interests of big business. We call on workers belonging to these parties to call their leadership to account for their continuous anti-worker positions, and to put pressure on them to abandon their opposition to improved conditions for millions of workers.

On the other hand COSATU is confident that the ANC will not only defend the current gains as contained in the Bill, but also improve it in areas where there are flaws, in order to deal with the structural deficiencies of South Africa's labour market which we inherited from apartheid colonialism.

We have approached the ANC and SACP for an urgent meeting to resolve differences that still exist between us as the Alliance partners. We hope that the meeting will take place as a matter of urgency in order to reach an agreement in time to table the necessary amendments.

On our part, we will also be tabling the following positions as developed by the Special EXCO held on September 5, 1997.

1. Hours of Work

The Bill improves working hours in respect of domestic, farm and mine workers and introduces a proposed minimum of 45 hours. To secure the overall reduction of working hours, with the aim of achieving a 40 hour working week for all workers, we will seek to strengthen the schedule in the bill for reducing working hours; entrench all sectoral minima which are below 45 hours as part of the bill; and reduce working hours by one hour for all workers who work between 40 and 45 hours per week.

The Bill must also make provision for negotiations in Nedlac on a further reduction of working hours, which must be implemented no later than two years after the bill has been enacted. To the extent that government has committed itself to attaining 40 hours, as reflected in the schedule, this commitment must be given teeth and substance- not merely be a symbolic gesture.

2. Child labour

We remain of the view that while the definition of a child in the Bill (below 18 years) is in line with our position and the Constitution, the Bill is too lenient in its approach to child labour. COSATU maintains its view that the threshold below which child labour would be prohibited should be set at 16 years instead of 15 as provided in the Bill. Further, COSATU wants to see the beefing up of provisions regulating employment of children between 16 and 18 years.

3. Variation

We remain opposed to the variation model in the Bill particularly in relation to: The potential for downward variation under the guise of 'flexibility" which would be an erosion of workers basic rights; The extensive discretion of the Minister to vary (including potentially downgrade ) the basic conditions of workers.

We propose a model that will ensure that where variation takes place, a test of 'on balance more favourable' is applied- this allows for a degree of flexibility to parties in collective bargaining, while not undermining the floor of basic rights.

If agreement on the above approach to variation cannot be reached, the chapter dealing with variation should be scrapped in favour of the status quo. This would require certain amendments to the LRA to ensure that collective bargaining may only improve on, not undermine, the basic floor of rights in the BCEA.

4. Paid maternity leave

COSATU's position remains that the law must provide for six months maternity leave of which at least four months should be paid. Further, women who go on maternity leave should enjoy job security. In the event that the UIF is used as a mechanism for payment, women who lose their jobs soon after returning from maternity leave should not have their unemployment benefits prejudiced. We reject the current position that seeks to maintain the levels of payment at 45%.

5. Employment Conditions Commission

In addition to these core issues of dispute, COSATU remains concerned about the lack of teeth given to the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC), a crucial institution set up by the Bill. It is problematic that the ECC is being given inferior powers to its predecessor, the Wage Board. We believe that if it is to function effectively, its role must go beyond being a mere advisory institution to the Minister.

6. Role of the Media Throughout the negotiations period the commercial media has chosen to misinterpret our positions, particularly in regard to maternity leave and working hours, and have failed to reflect the significant moves which we made in this regard. We call on them once more to accurately convey the real issues to their readership, rather than being blinded by their prejudices against the labour movement.

7. The Way Forward COSATU has deployed a team in Cape Town led by the General Secretary to monitor as well as engage with MP's and the Alliance on the above issues. We will be systematically advancing our proposals as outlined above.

Further, we will ensure that proposals which have been advanced by the ANC in bilaterals, and in correspondence between COSATU and the Minister, but have not been captured or included in the latest bill, are incorporated as agreed.

As stated earlier, we are also preparing for a 24 hour general strike on 27 - 28 October 1997, when public hearings will be held, with labour and business submitting their positions to the portfolio committee. This strike will go ahead unless an agreement is reached within the Alliance, in which case the COSATU Executive will review its position. We call on our members, and the broader community to intensify mobilisation for the general strike.

We further call on employers to abandon their entrenched positions, which they have maintained throughout negotiations, which deepens polarisation, and sends out the clear signal that they are determined to cling to the apartheid cheap labour system.

Issued by: Mbhazima Shilowa, COSATU General Secretary