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Still no buses as SAFTU strike threatens to bring country to a standstill

Apr 24, 2018
Still no buses as SAFTU strike threatens to bring country to a standstill

With uncertainty over when  the current national bus strike will end, the South African Federation of Trade Union (SAFTU) announced on Monday that on Wednesday 25 April, the union and its affiliates will be on the streets of South Africa in a general strike in protest against government's new National Minimum Wage.

Wage negotiations between the workers unions and the employers are still deadlocked as the strike entered its seventh day on Tuesday.

The unions wanted a one-year 12% across the board wage increase, which includes a minimum wage of R8 000 according to a press release from SATAWU as well as full-pay for dual drivers, compensation for sleeping-out, and for any work between the hours of 8pm and 3am to be deemed the night shift.

However, the employers are offering a 7% increase in year one, a 7.25% increase in year two and a 7.5% increase in year three.

While the unions have since come down to a 9% increase in the first year, they are, however, not willing to sign a multi-year agreement as offered by the employers.

The unions are now set to also join the SAFTU strike.

SAFTU strike

SAFTU called the new national minimum wage, whose implementation has been delayed, "the biggest attacks on working-class people, the trade unions and the poor majority of South Africans since the end of apartheid".

"Support is growing daily and we are confident that we shall bring South Africa to a standstill and fill the towns and villages with angry workers, employed and unemployed, member of all unions or none, who are demanding action to end the country’s crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality," the union said in a statement.

"Six days later, we shall be reassembling our forces in Bloemfontein and elsewhere for the traditional May Day celebration, the day when workers around the world honour the memory of our fallen heroes and heroines and recommit to the struggle for the unshackling of the workers from the chains of the employers and their co-conspirators in government.

"We are mobilising the workers in particular against a ferocious declaration of war by the ruling class of white monopoly capitalists, who are trying to get Parliament to pass new laws which will entrench poverty and threaten workers’ constitutional right to withdraw their labour."

'The poverty national minimum wage of R20 an hour'

 SAFTU said that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, in which 10% of the population earn more than 50% of the household incomes while 20% earn less than 1.5%.

"Deloitte accountants have calculated that the average pay of executives in the country’s top 100 companies is now R17.97 million a year, which amounts to R69 000 a day and R8 625 an hour!

"Yet these grossly overpaid tycoons, together with their new champion in Union Buildings, multi-billionaire President Cyril Ramaphosa, want workers and their families to survive on just R20 an hour, something they would never dream of accepting for themselves," it described.

"We utterly reject the argument that this bill should be supported because R20 an hour is “better than nothing”. The scandalous fact that so many employers currently pay employees even less than this poverty wage in no way justifies the government agreeing to a statutory minimum which will still leave workers trapped in poverty, entrench the apartheid wage structure, and widen income inequalities even further.

"And not all workers now earning less than R20 an hour will get an increase. The minimum wage for farmworkers will only be R18 an hour, R15 an hour for domestic workers and as low as R11 an hour for those on Extended Public Works Programmes."

SAFTU claims some employers have already said that they will keep their monthly wage bill the same as before by employing workers for fewer hours.

"The workers most affected are those who are already the most vulnerable, the unemployed, those in atypical forms of casual employment, part-timers and temporary workers who could be blackmailed by employers, who – following the lead of their political party, the DA, and scandalously COSATU leaders – want to be able to apply for an exemption from the NMW, so that they can ‘persuade’ desperate unemployed workers to ‘agree’ to accept below-minimum wages so as to get at least some money for food," it added.

"This will in turn threaten the jobs of existing employees, who will live with the constant fear that their jobs could be lost, or their wages cut, by employers who reminds them that 'there is always someone out there who will take your job for less than I pay you'!

"Another huge problem is enforcement. A shocking report by Statistics SA revealed that 577 000 children in South Africa, some as young as seven, are being used for child labour. If the Department of Labour cannot stop such blatantly illegal and immoral exploitation of children, what chance is there that this understaffed and under-resourced department can force all employers to pay the minimum wage to all their employees?" the union said. 

"The National Minimum Wage Bill has now been sent back to the Department of Labour to redraft the Bill to take account of the submissions made to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labour. One of these submissions was made by SAFTU on 17 April, and we demand that the Department responds positively to it and will not just tinker with the details of the Bill but make fundamental changes so that the minimum wage becomes a living wage."

Amendments to labour laws

SAFTU said that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labour has also been considering amendments to labour laws.

"These laws already force workers and unions to jump through many procedural hoops to attain a certificate to allow a protected strike.

"The amendments will now force unions to navigate even more obstacles before they can go on strike, including strict rules on balloting of members, picket regulations which will prevent strikers engaging with other workers and extending conciliation procedures, even after negotiations have deadlocked," it added.

"They threaten to paralyse unions, frustrate angry workers who will be more, and not less, likely to embark on spontaneous and unprotected strikes."

The union said that there is even a clause, which will allow employers and/or government to impose arbitration if they consider strikes to have been going on too long or causing an acute national or local crisis affecting the normal, social and economic functioning of the community or society.

"This arbitration is defined as ‘advisory’ but it would enable employers to sit tight, make no attempt to negotiate, wait for the strike to last ‘too long’ or adverse affect their business and then go to court to get the strike declared ‘unlawful’. In reality this amounts to ‘compulsory’ arbitration which will undermine workers’ constitutional right to withdraw their labour, and turn them into slave labourers!" it added.

SAFTU said that, together with other allied groups, have appealed to MPs to reject this emasculation of the working class.

"They should instead be looking at ways to improve and strengthen the position of super-exploited vulnerable workers, in the face of the increasingly dictatorial power of the employers." 

'Economic catastrophe facing workers and the poor'

SAFTU said that it sees these new laws as part of a wider attack on workers’ jobs and living standards, more casualisation of labour and moves to privatise public assets.

"The latest attacks include the increase in VAT, the Fuel Levy and Road Accident Levy, which will push up the price of nearly everything we buy.

"Jobs are disappearing daily, particularly in the important manufacturing and mining sectors. In the fourth quarter of 2017 9.2 million people were unemployed, amounting to 36.3% by the more realistic expanded definition which includes people who have stopped looking for work," the union said.

"Even by the ‘official’ definition of unemployment, which includes only those who are not employed but actively looking for jobs, there are 5.9 million jobless people, a percentage of 27.7% which in among the sixth highest in the world.

"The South African economy is in free-fall, with no sign of recovery, and, as always it is the working class and the poor who suffer most as a result. The crisis has created an swelling army of unemployed, temporarily employed, part-time, casual and marginalised workers who live in deep poverty.

"We must not only look at the low wages paid to workers but to the social wage – the pathetically inadequate expenditure on education, healthcare, transport, and all other public services, causing abysmally low levels of service. We were shocked by the recent report that spending per learner in basic education has been falling in real terms over the past ten years. Recent budget cuts will mean even worse levels of service." 

It said that, in addition, the scourge of corruption and looting has robbed the people of billions of rands which could nave been used to tackle the crisis in education, healthcare and transport and to create jobs.

"All these problems add up to colossal human tragedy, from which there is at the moment no escape, given the continuation by the ANC government of neoliberal, free-market policies which are the underlying reason for this catastrophe. These are designed to defend and promote the interests of a small elite of super-rich, mostly white, monopoly capitalist exploiters.

"While we have to welcome the small victories we have won in the fight against corruption, symbolized by Jacob Zuma’s appearance in the dock, we are not confident that the new ANC government will bring any real change in policy, in particular the burgeoning corruption and fraud in the private business sector," the union said.

"Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to stick with the policies of successive Finance Ministers and the Treasury of bending to the dictates of the capitalist class and their enforcers, the credit ratings agencies. He will continue with policies like GEAR and the National Development Plan which follow the line of the World bank and IMF, not the people of South Africa or ANC voters." 

The details of the marches on 25 April are (all at 10h00):

  • Johannesburg:  Assembling at Newtown Precinct Park. Marching to the Department of Labour, the Provincial Department of Health ad the Premier’s Office
  • Cape Town: Assembling at Keizersgracht. Marching to the City of Cape Town offices and Parliament.
  • Port Elizabeth: Assembling at Vusi Dlamini Square. Marching to Centenary Hall
  • Bloemfontein: Assembling at Batho Hall. Marching to Department of Labour at 1h00
  • Polokwane: Assembling at SABC Park. Marching to the Departments of Labour and Social Development
  • Durban: Assembling at Botha’s Place. Marching to Durban City Hall, Departments of Labour, Economic Development and the Premier’s and Mayor’s offices