SAFTU strikes for better working conditions

Union leaders leading the march in Cape Town. Photo by Mzi Velapi

In a show of power, about 6,000 workers and community members in Cape Town marched against the proposed minimum wage and labour law amendments.

Keizersgracht Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town, South Africa

Joined by civil society organisations, trade unions affiliated to the South African Federations of Trade Unions (SAFTU) took to the streets of Cape Town as part of the national strike against the proposed minimum wage and labour law amendments. The nationwide strike saw thousands of workers in various areas around the country heeding the call by the one-year-old federation.

Addressing the workers before the start of the march, the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) Western Cape secretary, Meshack Ntechane said that the workers can do to the current government what they did to the apartheid government “If our demands around the minimum wage and labour law amendments are not met, we will render this ANC and Cosatu-led government ungovernable,” he said.  The trade union federation is opposed to the proposed minimum wage of R20 for workers, with R18, R15 and R11 for farmworkers, domestic workers and EPWP workers respectively.

Kurt Ziervogel from the Municipal and Allied Trade Union of South Africa which organises Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) said that they reject the R11 minimum wage.  “The R11 minimum wage for EPWP workers is unacceptable and we feel that the programme is the worst form of corruption in local government,” said Ziervogel.

Addressing the workers outside Parliament, FAWU’s general secretary, Katishi Masemola whose union organises farmworkers said they reject the minimum wage as it will entrench poverty. “As we all know, a loaf of bread costs about R15 and if we want workers to earn R20 per hour, then it means that we are fine with the poverty levels,” he said.

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Elitsha reported that the federation is against the proposed labour law amendments because it sees them as an attack on workers’ rights. While handing over the memorandum of demands, SAFTU’s provincial secretary Andre Adams said that the proposed labour law amendments are a “frontal assault on the constitutionally guaranteed right to strike and to bargain collectively.”

SAFTU says that the proposed labour law amendments are an obstacle to unions and instead of ending long violent strikes, they will just cause more.

“All these amendments, when seen together, seek to place even more obstacles for trade unions than those already in existing laws. They open up the likelihood of even more and longer court battles around laws, procedures and codes of conduct.

“They take no account of the way strikes frequently erupt when workers are confronted with unfair dismissals, racist abuse, and health and safety violations. They quite justifiably want to respond immediately and effectively, by walking out of the workplace there and then. But under these laws, their union will often be unable to support them without going through long and difficult legal battles with the employers.

“It thus seriously weakens the unions and rather than ending potentially long or violent strikes it is, if anything, likely to cause more, as workers lose patience not only with employers but also with their unions whose hands are tied behind their backs by these laws.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), meanwhile has criticized SAFTU for striking against the minimum wage. COSATU is backing the proposed minimum wage: “The minimum wage will be a huge achievement that will see wages rise for the 47% of workers (6 million) who earn less than R20 an hour currently.”

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The minimum wage policy was drafted in the National Economic Development and Labour Council with COSATU and the two other trade union federations representing labour there, FEDUSA and NACTU, employer organisations and government representatives. SAFTU is not part of the structure.



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