Cosatu protests for decent work

Thousands took part in the march to the national treasury and to the City of Tshwane. Photo by Simon Ramapuputla

Cosatu and its affiliates commemorated the International Day of Decent Work, 6 October, with marches in urban centres around the country. Elitsha attended the actions in Cape Town, King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, and Tshwane.

To mark the World Day for Decent Work, workers from trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) held marches and pickets in major centres around the country. According to the statement by the trade union federation, the marches and the pickets were to “mobilise workers and cajole government and employers to not simply settle for any type of job but to rather aspire to the goals of decent work where workers are treated as partners in building economies and not simply as glorified slaves.”

The major demands and issues raised by Cosatu include ensuring compliance with the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Act, punctual payment of staff, provision of a safe workspace for workers, in particular women workers, protection of workers from injuries and death at the workplace, and respect of the constitutional rights to join unions and collective bargaining.

In Cape Town

A memorandum was handed to Prasa concerning the working conditions of workers at the rail company. Photo by Asive Mabula

Cosatu held pickets in various locations, including outside the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in the Cape Town CBD and outside the Western Cape legislature.

“I am disappointed by the lack of members and leadership present here today. Where are we headed to if we cant bring 100 people [together] for issues that affect you?” asked Malvern de Bruyn, Cosatu provincial secretary, to the group of 30-odd attendees.

De Bruyn, on behalf of Cosatu, handed over a memorandum to Prasa’s regional manager, Raymond Maseko. The demands centre around the pursuit of decent work and fair labour practicesas well as the failure to provide services to working class communities, such as the suspension of Cape Town’s central line.

Many of the public sector unions picketed outside the Western Cape legislature. Photo by Papama Mninzi

The provincial chairperson of Cosatu, Motlatsi Tsubane, says that they came to make the Western Cape provincial government aware of the challenges that workers are faced with within their departments and the private sector as well. These challenges include non-compliance with recruitment policies and basic conditions of employment. “Workers are faced with serious challenges especially in the retail sector; workers can’t even take lunch or tea breaks, companies don’t provide transportation, and they are working for longer hours,” says Tsubane. “There’s also a persisting issue of unfair dismissal especially in the private sector; they don’t follow due disciplinary processes.” When Cosatu had previously marched to provincial treasury earlier this year, they had refused to receive the memorandum. That’s why, Tsubane says, they had to return.

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The regional secretary of Nehawu in the Cape Metro region, Temba Gubula, says that they joined the picketing because they believe in the principle of decent work and believe that it is a fundamental right for all workers. “The South African constitution enshrines the right to dignity,” he says. He further elaborated that this right is applicable in all work spaces: security guards in government buildings, porters in hospitals as well as community healthcare workers. “These comrades are outsourced by external companies with annual contracts perpetually, this is victimisation. We want these people to have full-time positions within government so they also reap essential worker benefits,” says Gubula.

In King William’s Town, Eastern Cape

The march, which was attended by around 80 Cosatu leaders and officials, proceeded from King Williams Town Victoria Grounds to Gateway Clinic at Grey Hospital where a memorandum of demands was handed to health officials.

Zolani Ndlela, the provincial chairperson of South African Municipal Workers Unions (Samwu) and Cosatu, said the four marches taking place in the province were directed at the Department of Health because of the worsening crisis in the health sector. “Instead of having demonstrations and gatherings in various workplaces, we agreed in the Eastern Cape to gather in Gqeberha, Queenstown, Umtata and here in King William’s Town. We also agreed to target the health department in all four centres due to deteriorating conditions of health facilities,” he said.

The pickets in the Eastern Cape focused on the deteriorating healthcare system in the province. Photo by Anele Mbi

“The South African government is finding itself incapable of dealing with the ongoing capitalist crisis and has resorted to increasing austerity measures. This has seen cuts in public spending leading to massive reduction in all aspects of social and economic benefits, in wages, pensions, health and education and social welfare transfers. This draconian cuts in public service wages have plunged the economy into meltdown and decimated the township and rural economy. The number of people who suffer from mental illness and depression have increased because of these attacks on working people’s livelihoods,” said Velile Sinqana, the provincial secretary of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) as he was delivering the memorandum.

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Bongani Losi, the director of labour relations  who received the memorandum on behalf of the MEC for health said that they will respond within two weeks.

In Tshwane

In Pretoria, the protesters handed memorandums of demands to the national treasury against austerity measures and to the City of Tshwane for undermining the bargaining council. The memorandum to the treasury raised issues of the effects of austerity on workers, of unemployment, corruption, and the water and the electricity crisis.

Cosatu President Zingisa Losi addressing the workers who were part of the march. Photo by Simon Ramapuputla

“The water crisis and water shedding in municipalities across the country is a cause for serious concern as it violates human rights. We do not want to see a repeat of the recent outbreak of cholera in Hammanskraal that claimed the lives or more than 30 people,” reads the memorandum.

Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana was not present to receive the memorandum of demands.

Outside the City of Tshwane offices, Cosatu President Zingiswa Losi said that the livelihood of workers in the city is not valued. She said that workers cannot be treated like “glorified slaves” in a democratic country. Cosatu also demanded the immediate reinstatement of municipal workers dismissed by the city. “We want Immediate honouring of the 2021 multi-term collective agreement as pronounced by the Salga [South African Local Government Association] bargaining council. The City to reverse their intention to review the bargaining council ruling [and] open engagements with organised labour as a way of resolving this unnecessary impasse,” Cosatu said.

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