Cosatu marches for decent work

Members of Cosatu unions march against austerity to mark the World Day for Decent Work. Photo by Vincent Lali

Workers in twelve major centres around the country marched for decent and improved working conditions.

To mark the World Day for Decent Work on 7 October, the Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) held marches in major cities around the country. The federation is demanding that government and employers respect labour laws and take the calls for decent work seriously.

In Cape Town

Scores of protesters marched to the provincial legislature and parliament waving placards that read: ‘‘Implement equal pay for work of equal value in all sectors.’’ Andile Ngqameka, deputy chairperson of Cosatu in the Western Cape, complained about Allan Winde’s absence from the provincial legislature.
‘’We are told that the premier is out of the country. We were here on August 4 and even sent follow-
up letters so we could have a dialogue, but we have not yet received a response,’’ he said. Henriette Robson, a director-general in the premiers’ office, accepted the memorandum but Ngqameka
told her not to address the marchers but to meet with Cosatu leaders instead.

Addressing the marchers outside parliament, Cosatu national treasurer, Freda Oosthuizen, said:
‘’We face factory closures and short time and don’t have proper tools or safety clothing at work. We
want answers. We want decent jobs and a safe work environment.” The offer of a three percent wage increase by government she described as “peanuts for poor workers, but fine for ministers who work in parliament.” She said that as much as 25% of a worker’s salary is typically spent on transport travelling to and from work every day.

She criticised ministers for accessing electricity while workers are disconnected. “When we have loadshedding, the ministers’ lights are on,” Oosthuizen said, wagging her finger at parliament. Ministers are failing to deliver on the mandate that the workers gave them, she insisted: ‘’We elected them into power, so they are supposed to deliver services. We are not satisfied with the services they deliver.”

Gcina Matakane, procedural advisor in the Speaker of the National Assembly’s office, received the memorandum and said he would hand it to the speaker. ‘’She will sit with her advisors, look at the issues and decide which ones must be addressed by which comrade,’’ he said. The memorandum says Cosatu has resolved to focus on fighting corruption, retrenchment, and unemployment.

In Johannesburg

Over 300 workers marched from Cosatu House in Braamfontein, to the Game outlet in Pritchard Street, where workers handed over a memorandum of demands. Other marches were held in Ekurhuleni and Sedibeng areas. Top of their demands was for the end of planned retrenchments at Massmart stores in South Africa. This follows an announcement by the retail group that it will be shutting down eight Game outlets, affecting over 700 employees.

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In Johannesburg, the workers marched to end planned retrenchments at Massmart. Photo by Chris Gilili

Cosatu Gauteng provincial chairperson, Amos Monyela said the action on Friday was meant to address the challenges that confront workers, especially issues of poor working environments, unfair bargaining, privatisation and low wages. He said, the day was one part in a series of rolling mass action by the working class, which started with the national shutdown in August.

“As Cosatu, we’re the only federation that can tell the ANC where to get off. And if they are not willing to listen to the working class, in 2024 we will ensure we take them out of power. To Massmart, we’re issuing them a warning today, that this is the beginning of a struggle which we are surely going to win,” said Monyela.

The South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) worker representative at another of Massmart’s retail stores, Makro, Khulekani Ngubane said they joined the mass action on Friday because the closure of Game stores will eventually also affect them.

“If Walmart will take over 100% of Massmart, this means that all decisions will then be taken in New York. Even issues of wage negotiations and workers’ benefits could be out of our hands. It has been six months now and workers have not received increases, because of the international influence. Now that will create problems for us,” said Ngubane.

Massmart told the union recently, he alleged, to select which of their workers would be receiving increases. “That is why we felt the need to mobilise our workers not to go and work today and join us on the streets. We are tired of the exploitation, while we work ridiculous hours,” he said.

Public sector wage negotiations

Cosatu’s second biggest affiliate, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) is said to have accepted the three percent wage offer by government according to GroundUp. These developments are expected to cause a rift between Cosatu affiliates in the public sector.

Members of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) that Elitsha interviewed objected to the government’s final offer for a wage increase. Popcru shop steward, Howard Mbana said: “The government must consider a better offer. Three percent wage increase is an insult. It doesn’t assist. I reject it. A better increase will make a difference in our lifestyle, buying power and pension. Currently, workers are losing their assets such as houses and cars because they can’t afford to pay for them,” he said.

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“One way to resolve the current wage crisis,” he suggested, “is to give the workers access to a portion of
their pension.” Lulamile Roro, deputy chair of Southern Peninsula Popcru, said: “I accept the three percent wage increase, provided that R1,000 of gratuity is pensionable. Currently, it is not pensionable, which means there is no growth in terms of the salary scale.”

Zukisani Mabhengu, Nehawu regional secretary of Ikapa North, said: “We will not even consider the three
percent wage increase because it will change nothing in the lives of the poor. We want an offer that
is above the consumer price index.” Nehawu member, Lusindiso Sixishe agreed: “We have not been getting increments since 2020; now our buying power is adversely affected. I had to cancel a funeral policy recently because I can’t sustain my normal lifestyle anymore because of the high cost of living.”

Nehawu spokesperson, Baxolise Mali said: “The offer is not really assisting workers in light of
the high prices of food, accommodation, petrol… more so when you consider that workers didn’t get any
salary increase since 2020, and what is worse is that the 3% is even below the current CPI which is at 5.9%.

The current wage negotiations have the potential to divide the Cosatu affiliates in the public sector. Photo by Vincent Lali

Sadtu spokesperson, Nomusa Cembi said, “We have engaged as members of the union and agreed to sign. In terms of decent work, three percent is totally unfair, especially considering that for the past three years workers have never had increases but we believe it is better than nothing. We can continue engaging the employer going foward.”

Nehawu provincial chairperson in Gauteng, Mzikayise Tshontshi said the union will never accept the three percent final wage offer from the government. “It is ridiculous; we have even declared a dispute as Nehawu. We are prepared and ready to fight. All we know is that this offer has not garnered enough support for it to be signed. We’re waiting for the dispute process, but we are not signing,” said Tshontshi. 

Asked how Nehawu’s stance on the wage offer could be so different from Sadtu’s, Tshontshi said he could not comment on what other affiliates believe. 

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