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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, to the National Skills Development Conference on behalf of organised labour

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, to the National Skills Development Conference on behalf of organised labour

22 February 2001

Master of Ceremonies Minister of Labour, Mr. Membathisi Mdladlana Business leaders, both Small and Large Comrades of COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU Community and youth leaders International Guest Members of Parliament Countrymen and women

Thank you for the honour bestowed on me to speak on behalf of organized labour - COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU. Skills deficiency in our society is one of sad legacies inherited from apartheid. South Africa sorely needs a skills revolution if our vision of an equitable society is to be achieved. For many without jobs lack of skills is an albatross impinging on their ability to find quality jobs.

One of the saddest ironies of South Africa is the coexistence of vacancies in skilled occupation alongside a mass of unemployed who lack the skills to fill these vacancies.

South African companies spend between 0% and 1% on skills development - hardly adequate for a modern economy. The inefficiency of the apartheid labour market manifested themselves in many ways including poor information to signal to job seekers where jobs are available and what skills are required. This has resulted in a mismatch between skills and requirements of a job. Moreover out education system was top-heavy and there was no clear articulation between different bands of education. There was also a disjuncture between education and training resulting in weak linkage between the world of work and the education system. This is sharply reflected in the fact that workers' accumulated knowledge was not recognized in any way - so that was no recognition of prior learning.

Workers argued that the training that they received at the workplace did not lead to any national certificate. This meant that it was difficult to move to another organisation (even in the same industry) as the training that workers received was only reco gnised by that organisation. Sometimes even the organisation providing the training did not give it much recognition.

Workers were also given limited time off to attend education and training programmes - and often the programmes were held after hours, making it difficult for many workers to attend because of their responsibilities at home.

Organised labour argued that a range of strategies was required to address these many problems. These included:

  • the removal of discrimination at the workplace and in learning institutions so that black people, women and disabled people already in the workplace could progress, and that those outside of the workplace could enter it;
  • recognition for the skills and knowledge that workers have acquired through years of work experience, as well as workplace training programmes, so that workers could gain national qualifications (or parts of qualifications) - and in this way, increase the bargaining power of workers;
  • access to education and training programmes - including Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) - to enable workers to acquire new knowledge and skills so that they may move up and along the learning pathways;
  • a grading system that recognises the skills and knowledge that workers have;
  • the transformation of the workplace towards a "high skill - high wage" economy, to create quality jobs for all workers and to address the large wage gap that exists between workers and management.

The enactment of the Skills Development Act and the Employment Equity Act was therefore a turning point. Equally important, the reforms that have been implemented in the general, further and higher education bands plus the reform of the qualification fram ework are important milestone in the skills revolution. While the last five years - or longer- have been spent developing the framework, the next five years will be critical in developing and implementing the new system.

Education and training that is provided must meet the demands of the economy, society and the individual. This is critical both to ensure that workers can progress in the economy, as well as to enable the unemployed and those young people who complete thei r studies to enter the economy. It is also vital to build our relatively new democracy.

While the 1% levy is in place, for the National Skills Strategy more investment in skills development is required. This is the responsibility of both government and employers. In the context of the negotiations around the Skills Development Act we argued for the levy to be place at 4% and later compromised to suggest that we should move gradually towards attaining the 4%. This proposal is still valid and needs to be revisited because the nature of the challenge requires large-scale investment of resources .

As part of ensuring that workers have access to education and training, labour supports the adoption of the ILO Convention 140 relating to Paid Education and Training Leave. We call on the Minister to ensure that this convention is ratified by South Afric a as a matter of urgency.

In addition, we need to ensure that other measures that ensure that workers and the unemployed can access the education and training are put in place. The government and SETA's should support the development of multi-lingual models in the design and implem entation of education and training initiatives so that workers have access to learning in the language of their choice. In addition, all South Africans should be encouraged to gain language skills in additional South African languages.

The Employment Equity Act (EEA) has been introduced to ensure that unfair discrimination in the labour market is removed. Skills development is central to achieving this objective.

Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) is critical as a basis for further education and training, and for many workers to move up or along any learning pathway. In addition, many workers that require ABET, are often the workers who are being retrenched and who remain vulnerable to retrenchment. While some unions have negotiated ABET agreements (and there is now an ABET Act) there has been more emphasis on providing training to those workers above ABET levels, rather than those that do not have ABET. Implementation of this act should help deal with this weakness.

This strategy will only succeed if employers, workers, community member etc. through out the country, support the process and are fully informed about what is taking place and the role that everyone needs to play in this process. The capacity of all stake holders at all levels becomes critical.

The new system, including the National Skills Development Strategy, has the potential to improve the quality of work for workers and the unemployed, and to enhance the opportunities that workers and the unemployed have to access new opportunities in both l earning and work.

Finally, while the new system is based on the principles -of access, redress, mobility, progression, recognition of prior learning, and articulation- the challenge remains of putting these into practice. Only when we put these into practice with the neces sary resources, will our people feel the real benefits of skills development.

As labour we say: Forward to the skills revolution !

Thank you

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