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COSATU on Sugar Tax Part 1 of 3
COSATU on Sugar Tax Part 1 of 3
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Shopsteward Volume 26 No. 2

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  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU's End-of-Year Statement for 2016

The Congress of South African Trade Unions wishes all its members and the workers in general a restful and happy holiday season followed by a successful and happy new year. We wish all workers safe travelling on trains, planes and on the roads. We also caution them against engaging in alcohol abuse and unnecessary expenditure during this festive period.

The year 2016 has been a very difficult year for the workers in general, with our economy continuing to shed jobs; resulting in the growing inequality and deepening poverty. But we are happy that the federation continued to defy all doomsayers this year, by protecting its unity and cohesion and taking the workers battles to the employers and all centres of political and economic power.

COSATU has fully understood the workers' message coming from our 12th National Congress. Workers called for a mindset change in COSATU, with greater focus on the expectations of our members at the workplace, fighting for greater job protection and living wages, greater solidarity and unity in action, making leadership more visible and interactive, and communicating more effectively with our members.

We have responded to this by launching a campaign to listen to all the workers, particularly the most vulnerable, at workplace level, including community meetings. We continue to do everything possible to recruit the unorganised workers into the unions and create a more united, militant and powerful workers' controlled trade unions.

We started the year with an aggressive push demanding justice for the victims of the Lily Mine disaster that resulted in three workers remaining trapped underground and many of them injured and unemployed. We supported the Umbhaba Estate workers strike that resulted in the illegal dismissal of more than 3000 workers. We forced and succeeded in having the Human Rights Commission investigate the case of these workers.

We defeated the reactionary lobby groups like Free Market Foundation, South African Institute of Race Relations and backward looking political parties like the DA in their attempt to attack the National Minimum Wage and Collective Bargaining and other progressive policies.

Affiliates Strikes

Our affiliates were at the forefront of the workers struggles demanding a living wage and decent working conditions for workers in the sectors, where they are organised. The South African Transport & Allied Workers' Union (SATAWU)
members at the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) embarked on a national strike due to a dispute in wage negotiations.

The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union [CEPPWAWU] declared a strike over wage negotiations against the employers in the chemical industry, the National Petroleum Employers Association. The South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union, {SACCAWU}, against the company JD Group over stalled wage negotiations and job losses.

The National Union of Mineworker's (NUM) members at Eskom, embarked on a full blown strike demanding decent wage increases.

We saw the Communications Workers Union, taking on employers from Telkom, MTN, ENCA, ANN7, etc. This is ample proof that our affiliates have successfully managed to translate the Back to Basics programme into a meaningful practical activity to strengthen our workplace organisation ,and to close the gap between the leadership and the members they lead.

These strikes were militant but disciplined and reflected clearly that our affiliates understand that the glorious days of our federation shall only be regained through honest hard work by everyone.

We also appreciate and recognise that we are trying to achieve all of this under qualitatively different conditions, which include the steady decline in the rate of unionisation, dire economic situation, the fragmentation and mushrooming of new trade unions.

Anti-privatisation campaign and Retirement fund reform

Our battles were not just limited to work floor issues, but we also made our presence felt in the policy terrain. We are gradually re-asserting ourselves as a social force for transformation and are also diligently rebuilding our organised power, including our capacity to mobilise. We proved this by holding May day activities in all nine provinces and followed that up with nine marches in demand for Decent Work in October.

We vigorously opposed the implementation of the Taxation Amendment Act that was going to result in the forced annuitisation of workers retirement's savings without consultation. We made it very clear that we wanted to have that debate after the Comprehensive Social Security Discussion Paper was released by government for discussion at Nedlac. We insisted on this because workers are continuing to die of poverty and the latest figures show that less than 6% of South
Africans can afford to retire.

We have pushed for and ultimately achieved the release of the Comprehensive Social Security Discussion Paper.

We also closed ranks and refused to allow Big Business to justify their investment strike and use the dire economic situation to call for the Privatization of State -Owned -Entities. COSATU made it very clear that the emerging consensus for the privatization of state assets, between government and big business was going to receive some stiff resistance from the workers under the leadership of the federation.

Free Education

We have actively participated in the struggle for Free Education and have engaged with students and stakeholders to find a lasting solution. We have recently applied for a Section 77 Notice informing Nedlac that we intend to declare a national strike in demand of Free Education. The federation strongly believes that education is not only a socio-economic matter but is also a human rights issue. Nedlac is a platform where society can engage in a sound dialogue to find a sustainable solution to the current impasse on education funding. Our failure to find a sustainable solution on time will have a huge negative socio-economic impact on our society.

We are reiterating our call for the introduction of wealth tax that will help with the funding of free education and that the country's budget must prioritise free education.

NHI and the Minimum Wage

We pushed and fought for the release of the National Health Insurance's White Paper that was being blocked by the National Treasury. While we managed to achieve the release of the paper, there are also worrying signs that government is capitulating to private interests and is watering down the badly needed National Health Insurance {NHI}. We will fight this because we have already seen millions of workers dying from easily curable diseases simply because public health care is under resourced and private health care is unaffordable.

It has been disappointing to see government dismissing more than 170 doctors, who are employed in the NHI program. This followed the department's decision to divert funds that were allocated to the 11 NHI pilot sites away from the project and spend them on routine departmental projects.

We will continue to push back against this offensive on the NHI. Workers should be ready to push back because there is enough money in the Treasury to fund NHI. We already are spending over 8.5 % of our gross domestic product on health care in both the private and public sectors. Currently, the cost of private health care in South Africa is ranked as the most expensive in the world, even higher than in the USA.

The federation has pushed and succeeded to ensure that the National Minimum Wage became a central priority for all social partners at Nedlac. We have since received a report by the Advisory panel of experts and are busy engaging with its recommendations and proposals. COSATU has been relentless in its campaign for the adoption of a legislated national minimum wage.

The federation continues to engage with the contents of the report and also push for a speedy resolution of these negotiations. While the proposed figure of R3 500 still falls short of the federation's proposed figure of R4 500, it has given us a significant starting base and something to work with at Nedlac as we negotiate the way forward.

Drought

We have also seen the effects of the ongoing drought hitting the workers hard, with the agricultural sector shrinking and jobs getting lost in the sector. Food prices have skyrocketed, leaving many families struggling. Going forward the working class needs to also deal with the dwindling water supplies across the country because of the ongoing drought in the country. This is a big problem for the workers because water shortage will have an adverse impact on jobs and also on communities. We are already seeing some workplaces with no functioning toilet facilities and some of our facilities, like hospitals, clinics and schools are also running dry.

This poses some serious dangers because compromised sanitation in both health and education centres, including workplaces might result in the outbreak of diseases. We are also likely to see continuing increases in food prices as a result of big agricultural production declines.

We as workers and citizens should also play our role using the water responsibly. We need to report broken pipes to the relevant authorities.

What this reminds us of is that global warming and climate change is real. We need to open a more sober debate about climate change as a country. It will have severe implications on the security of food, jobs, including our education and health systems.

UIF Amendment Bill- and - Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill

COSATU has successfully pushed for the adoption of the UIF Amendment Bill, which has finally been adopted by the National Assembly's Portfolio Committee on Labour and the National Council of Provinces. It is a progressive bill, which will see billions of rands of UIF funds channelled to workers by increasing UIF benefits from 8 months to 12 months, increasing maternity leave payments from 54% of income to 66%, including mothers, who had miscarriages in the third trimester and stillborns under maternity leave. It will empower the Minister to set special regulations for domestic workers on the issue of maternity leave.

Its COSATU that managed to remove from the bill controversial sections that Department of Labour had brought into it after the Bill had left NEDLAC, for an example, the clause dealing with abortion. We are currently busy engaging with government and other social partners at Nedlac on how to expand access to the UIF to cover the informal sector and self employed workers, like taxi drivers, including paternity, parental and adoption leave.

The federation has also successfully pushed for the National Parliament to pass the Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill in 2017. We have made sure that some of its key progressive clauses include: protecting farm workers from evictions; provide legal representation to farm workers facing evictions and ensure that the human and other rights of farm workers are not violated. The bill shall also enshrine the legal rights of farm workers' dependents and relatives, guaranteeing access to grave sites to farm workers and also compel farm owners to maintain the homes of farm workers. We are also currently busy working with national parliament on how debt relief can be provided to our most indebted and impoverished workers and consumers

On Economy and unemployment

The federation has continued to speak out and mobilise against the slow pace of economic transformation in South African. The new report by Statistics South Africa that shows that South Africa's jobless rate rose to a new record of 27.1% proves that we are actually going backward instead of forward.

COSATU continues to argue that in order to address unemployment in this country; we need to address the legacy of concentration and domination of the South African economy by a few monopolies. There is little space for SA small firms to succeed and create jobs for the 9 million unemployed workers because the economy is dominated by cartels. This is in addition to high administered prices such electricity, transport costs, non- availability of cheap finance, and contractionary macroeconomic policies, which stifle the impact of industrial policy.

The federation has committed itself to campaigning for stricter investment laws to ensure that Merger & Acquisitions transactions do not result in job losses. It is not enough to make it a condition that there will be no job losses only in 2 years and this should also include section 189A retrenchments.

Politically

On the political front it has been very difficult year. We saw the Alliance failing to unite in the build up to the 2016 National Local government elections. The campaign saw serious divisions and the election results saw the ANC lose support. It has been disturbing to see the re-emergence of political killings and violence in the country. This reflects how the level of political deterioration has gone, especially within the Alliance structures.

This political incoherence has resulted in some workers raising the issue around the future of the Alliance and its relevance in achieving the goals and aspirations of the working class. Whilst, previously there had been convergence within the ANC-led Alliance around the need for fundamental and more radical phase of our democratic transition. This has largely disappeared because of a lack of practical proposals and the non implementation of the standing decisions. The proposals of the Alliance summit that demanded the review of the economic and labour chapters of the National Development Plan, were not implemented.

We still do not have a state pharmaceutical company and a state mining company. There has been no effort on the side of government to nationalise Sasol and Arcellor Mittal and the conversion of Post Bank into a state bank is yet to take place. This points to a real possibility of our envisaged radical second phase not only becoming diluted but getting derailed.

The movement has spent most of 2016 preoccupied with its internal challenges and continues to be caught up in a relentless partisan fighting. The federation though will continue to implement the decision of the 12th National Congress that mandated us to work to strengthen the alliance and contribute to the process of uniting and strengthening the African National Congress.

The ruling on Nkandla was a political blow to the Alliance and the Public Protector's report on the State Capture eroded the confidence that people had on the movement and to a certain extent the Alliance. We have resolved to lead from the front when it comes to fighting corruption as mandated by the Congress and the last CEC meeting.

Internationally

This year saw our affiliates NUM, NEHAWU, POPCRU and Ceppwawu hosting a successful 17th World Trade Union Congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) that was held in Durban on the 5-8 October. The Congress elected, Cde Mzwandile Makwayiba, as the President of more than 92 million strong membership organised in 111 countries and 5 continents.

We also saw the end of an era with the passing away of one of twentieth century's foremost revolutionaries, the former president of CUBA, Cde Fidel Castro. Cde Castro reshaped the world and his influence and charisma inspired people from all corners of the world and formed a bulwark against Western colonialism and American imperialism.

In memoriam

We remember all the workers, who have lost their lives in various workplaces, especially the victims of fatal accidents. We also remember and dip our banners for a number of our cultural icons, who passed away this year from, Mandoza, Sifiso Ncwane, Nyembezi Kunene, Ten Ten Nzimande and others

As we take some time as workers to spend some quality, we should also not forget to offer practical solidarity to vulnerable families, who have lost their livelihoods due to retrenchments this year. We should share the little we have with our neighbours, the poor in particular. We must remember that there are more than 9 million unemployed people in this country and they will be struggling to make ends meet during this period. The principles of unity and solidarity should continue to guide us, as we enjoy this festive holiday season.

Happy holidays to all South Africans and a happy new year.

Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (National Spokesperson)
Tel: +27 11 339-4911 Direct 010 219-1339
Mobile: 060 975 6794

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