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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU end-of-year statement, 16 December 2014

17 December 2014

As the Congress of South African Trade Unions reaches the end of 2014 it is time to reflect on a year which has presented many problems and challenges for the federation and its affiliates, but also for the workers of South Africa.

Our New Year resolution for 2015 will be to put behind us the internal conflicts that have weakened, and to an extent divided, us in 2014 and we will spare no effort to build and expand a powerful, united, democratic and worker-controlled federation.

Our priorities remain - to go back to basics - to set, and achieve, new recruitment targets aimed especially at organising and fighting for the unorganised, vulnerable and super-exploited workers.

Linked to this we have to improve service of all members, capacitate and educate our local and provincial structures and shop stewards as the engines of the federation.

And we are absolutely determined to act decisively to combat practices which have recently led to disunity and divisions between us. We will continue to eradicate the new alien cultures of factionalism, rumour-mongering and character assassination which sadly afflict our movement and threaten to paralyse us.

We must be a strong and growing fighting force, fearlessly exposing the exploiting bosses, corrupt politicians and incompetent officials, winning better wages and working conditions, while never losing sight of our goal of a united non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa and a peaceful, socialist world.

In previous end-of-year statements we have talked about of ticking time bombs, as an inevitable product of a society riven by a crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, outrageous levels of corruption, ruthless exploitation of workers by labour brokers and our two-tier levels of service in education, healthcare and transport.

This year we have seen some of those bombs exploding, as thousands of workers were involved in long and bitter disputes and strikes, and angry community protests.

And now we see the massive crisis at Eskom. There can be no excuse for the abject failure to resolve the problems which led to the first round of ‘load-shedding’ in 2008 which should have been sorted out years ago.

In 2008 COSATU said that we “share people’s anger at the enormous disruption to their lives and the economic prospects for the country caused by Eskom’s ‘load shedding’. It has become a serious national embarrassment and could have a major impact on economic growth and job creation”. What a disgrace that we can, and indeed must, repeat such a statement, word-for-word, six years later!

Eskom is lurching from one crisis to another at a time when the country desperately needs security of supply of electricity to address backlogs in connecting households who are still using dangerous illegal connections and for the infrastructure development programme and our economic transformation strategy.

COSATU repeats its call on the Minister of Public Enterprises to investigate the root causes of the problems in Eskom and take stern action against those who have failed to do their job to ensure its proper management.
The federation warns strongly against the kind of neoliberal solutions to the crisis, such as the Deputy Minister of Finance’s suggestion that we should privatise parts of Eskom. The South African public should reject calls for privatisation, which are driven by nothing other but self-interest.

The crisis was precipitated by refusal to invest in new capacity way back in 1998, when they wanted to sell Eskom to the highest bidder, for which we now paying the price. This is no more of a solution today.

Meanwhile we are seeing all the inevitable consequences of living in the world’s most unequal society, in which the rich get richer while the poor majority struggle to escape from unemployment, poverty pay, exploitation, hunger and racism. Most South Africans are rightly angry at being excluded from the economic benefits of 20 years of democracy which we celebrated this year.

We are number one in the world in terms of inequality, and, as always in December, more proof of just how unequal a society we have become is provided by the Sunday Times Rich List.

The latest edition exposed just how much some of the very rich people are taking home and how much they own. Of special interest to us is that the Rich List includes many employers who are currently fighting to worsen the conditions of their workers and our members.

The richest South African is Ivan Glassenberg, who is sitting on a fortune of R61 373 million. He heads Glencore, the tenth biggest company in the world, based in Switzerland, and one which is notorious for its super-exploitation of its workers.

800 members of the National Union of Mineworkers at the Koornfontein mine in Mpumalanga have been on strike since 17 October 2014, protesting against substandard severance payments. And this strike is one of five conflicts currently raging in Glencore operations in Peru, Colombia, Australia and the USA, in what IndustriALL has rightly identified as its global union-busting agenda.

South Africa’s highest earner is the CEO of Anglo American, Mark Cutifani, who earned a R107 million in 2013. His company has just announced plans to cut its global workforce by 60,000 people by 2017, which could include the sale of its Rustenburg and Union platinum mines and see the loss of 20,000 workers at a stroke.

Seventh highest earner, Whitey Basson, CEO of Shoprite, made R49.6-million last year - 1350 times more than the current minimum wage for one of his shop assistants. The same company’s chairperson, Christo Wiese, is the second richest South African, sitting on R35, 874 million.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the class divide, unemployment, by the more realistic expanded rate which includes those who no longer register to seek work, is still growing. In the third quarter of 2014 it stood at a shocking 35.8% - the highest rate ever.

A recent Oxfam report revealed that around 13m out of South Africa’s 53 million people, one in four, face hunger on a regular basis, despite South Africa being considered a food-secure nation, producing enough to feed all of its population.

And of course the main reason for such levels of hunger is poverty. In 2011 half of all workers earned below the then median wage of R3033 per month, and this is not only in the most vulnerable sectors, but also among most blue-collar and even many white-collar workers, as well of course as virtually all the unemployed.

So, as we celebrated our 20 years of democracy, we have had to say again that the main beneficiaries of these two decades have been white monopoly capital, the billionaires who own our industries and the chief executives who demand parity with their counterparts in the USA and Europe while expecting workers’ wages to be benchmarked against levels in sweatshop economies.

That is why the most positive development in 2014 has been the serious national debate, initiated by COSATU’s Collective Bargaining Conference in 2013, on a national minimum wage.

There is growing support from within government and even some more enlightened employers for a floor of earnings below which no South African should have to try to survive.

While this alone will not address the big problem of poverty and inequalities, it will be an essential first step to a coherent incomes policy, which must also include a comprehensive social security system, a basic income grant to cater for those unable to work, and a ‘social wage’ to provide workers with good, affordable basic services like healthcare, education and public transport.

We do not of course want a national minimum wage to replace collective bargaining. Workers must be free to battle in the sectoral bargaining structures to improve on the national minimum wage and ensure that recognition is given to factors like qualifications, skills, experience and danger.

This is why, while campaigning for a national minimum wage, we are waging war against moves by the Free Market Foundation, NEASA and others to undermine and ultimately destroy collective bargaining, by changing the law to allow any employers who do not sign agreements to opt out of implementing them and being allowed to keep paying poverty wages, and setting off a ‘race to the bottom’.

A minimum wage is not the a final destination but rather a springboard towards a better life for all and a new growth path, driven by a developmental state, to create a faster growing economy, more decent and sustainable jobs, and a more equal society.

It will improve the quality of life for millions of South Africans, give them dignity, and enable them to become consumers, savers and tax-payers and to play a role in the country’s economy. But also, by putting more money in the pockets of the poorest, it will increase demand for goods and services, thus leading to more sales, greater production to meet the new demand and therefore more jobs, which will on turn put more money into circulation.

International experience has disproved the theory that this will lead to job destruction but that it can create jobs. In Brazil, under the Lula administration, minimum wages played a key role in reducing poverty, unemployment and inequalities, while creating jobs. Between 2002 and 2010, the national minimum wage increased by 81%, yet in those years 17 million jobs were created!

Another welcome advance this year was the passing of the Labour Relations Amendment Act into law. Its aim is to protect vulnerable workers, ensure fair labour practices, and improve the effectiveness of the Labour Court, the CCMA, the Essential Services Commission and the Labour Inspectorate.

The federation was not happy that this new Act did not also completely ban labour brokers, but it does restrict their activities, and our campaign to get them totally banned will continue into 2015.

Finally we wish all matric student success in their exams, but caution the less successful not to despair, but to strive to continue to work and study and achieve their full potential.

We wish all our members and all South Africans a safe and peaceful holiday. Drive carefully, relax and come back refreshed for the battles that lie ahead in the new year of COSATU’s 30th anniversary.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Streets

P.O.Box 1019
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911 Direct 010 219-1339
Fax: +27 11 339-6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za