Speech By The Deputy Minister of the Department of
Telecommunications and Postal Services,
Hon. Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize
During the Occasion of
SHOPSTEWARD COUNCIL MEETING SHARPVILLE
23 JUNE 2016
Members of the REC
Leadership of the Federation here present
I am deeply honoured to stand before you this morning to share some notes and observations on the labour front. Before we could go anyway further, let me firstly remind you of some of our revolutionary milestones achieved to date. This year we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Women’s March to the Union Buildings and the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprings. These are acts of courage which give us strength as we tackle deeply rooted historical problems, which have created a highly unequal society.
My input will make touch on our current economic conditions, the notorious economic downgrading, unity, our achievements on the labour rights front since the dawn of democracy and one or two glaring challenges in the labour relations world of work.
SOUTH AFRICA’S ECONOMIC OUTLOOK
According to the latest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures published by Statistics South Africa, our economy has experienced a tipped economic growth into a negative territory in the first quarter of 2016. South Africa’s economy contracted by 1,2 percent quarter-on-quarter. Year-on-year growth for the same quarter was -0,2 percent.
Reasons for this contraction could be attributed to amongst others:
A sharp contraction in mining – The mining industry contributed the most to the 1,2 percent quarter-on-quarter fall. Lower production in the mining of ‘other’ metal ores, largely platinum group metals and iron ore, saw the industry contract by 18,1 percent.
A decrease in Agricultural Production – The impact of adverse weather continued to plague agriculture as the industry recorded its fifth consecutive quarter of negative growth. Agricultural production has fallen by 14 percent since the fourth quarter of 2014.
A decrease in the demand for Freight & Passenger Land Transport – The transport industry recorded its second consecutive quarter-on-quarter fall in activity, now joining beleaguered agriculture in recession territory. A fall in demand for freight and passenger land transportation contributed to the decline.
Looking at a much broader picture, the slowdown in mining and agriculture has had a knock-on effect on industries further along the production chain. Lower demand for energy, especially from mining, saw the electricity industry contract by 2,8 percent.
SOUTH AFRICA’S CREDIT RATING
Shopstewards, the rating of your country is also depended on your actions. The degree of cooperation between business and labour or government and labour is one of the factors which determine a country’s positive/negative rating. This is greatly because this very cooperation determines whether we will have a stable labour market or not.
Fitch's credit rating for South Africa was last reported at BBB minus, with stable outlook. This came after the widespread scare that we could be rated to a ‘junk status’, meaning that no investor was going to be interested in investing in our country. In general, a credit rating is used by sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and other investors to gauge the credit worthiness of South Africa thus having a big impact on the country's borrowing costs.
EFFECTS OF A ‘JUNK STATUS’ RATING
It was through the hard work of our Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan’s hard work as well as on-going meeting between government and business that we ended up avoiding being rated a ‘Junk Status’. The situation could have worsened, some companies could have closed shop perpetuating the already rife unemployment.
Being rated a ‘Junk Status’ could have meant that:
Government will pay more for debt than what it paid before.
The rand will lose value because it will be less attractive to invest in South Africa.
Imported goods will become more expensive, which will push up inflation.
Consumers will have to pay more for the items they need every month, and the interest they pay on their home and car loans will increase.
With the increased government’s borrowing rate, all other South African entities, will have to pay more for any money they borrow. Meaning they will have less money to spend in expanding their businesses and employing more people or they will try to put up their prices, he said.
A CALL TO UNITY
Chairperson, In 1911 Pixley ka Isaka Seme once said, and I quote, "Forget all the past differences among Africans and unite in one national organisation." This of course led to the formation of the ANC as we know it today a year later in 1912.It was on 8 January 1912, where John Langalibalele Dube, a Church Minister and School Headmaster; Pixley ka Isaka Seme a Lawyer; Solomon T Plaaitjie, a Court Translator, Author and Newspaper editor; were elected Leaders the Oldest Liberation movements in Africa, the ANC as we know it today.
Josiah Gumede, a teacher, businessman and journalist was one of the keynote speakers at the Inauguration Congress. The operative word in all what our fore-bearers advocated was Unity. I want to argue therefore that without unity, the freedoms we enjoy today would not have been possible; likewise, advancing the gains of our democracy would be more difficult without the ingredient of unity being the catalyst.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PEOPLE IN OUR STRUGGLE
The word PEOPLE is mentioned about 28 times in the original Freedom Charter which gives the Charter the people’s centred character and the importance of what can be achieved based on Unity. It is therefore instructive Comrades that the Freedom Charter has to this day, remained the cornerstone of the ruling Party’s policies and it is, in all accounts, the foundation of the South African Constitution. There are many instances where the Freedom Charter is captured almost word for word in many sections of our Labour Laws. It is also true that our labour laws are an expression of the Congress of the people’s declaration that ‘There shall be Work and Security’.
The ANC strategy and tactics document that was adopted by the Morogoro Conference in Tanzania on 25 April - 1 May 1969, asked a critical question relating to our theme this morning, and that is “Is there a special role for the working class in our national struggle?” The answer to the question went something like this and I quote,
”It is historically understandable that the exploited working class constitutes a distinct and reinforcing layer of our liberation, and Socialism does not stand in conflict with the national interest. Its militancy and political consciousness as a revolutionary class will play no small part in our victory and in the construction of a real people's South Africa”. Close quote.
Well, if it is true that the ability of the working class to make the necessary impact is dependent on the high levels of organisation and unity among the working class formations, then the Unity of workers as an important component of the broader working class is an absolute pre-requisite for the attainment of our National Democratic Revolution objectives.
If the unity of our revolutionary Alliance remains a pre-condition for the success of the National Democratic Revolution, then this imposes a duty to all of us to preserve the unity of the workers and to do everything we can to strengthen it.
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN THE CREATION OF A CONDUSIVE WORKING ENVIRONMENT
There are limits to what government can do. For example, in most cases government can only create an enabling environment for unions to operate and advance the course. Government cannot organise workers into unions, cannot negotiate on behalf of the workers and cannot provide legal representation to workers. These remain the primary reasons for union’s existence. If unions continue to become weak, this carries a real risk of collapsing our labour market institutional arrangements.
Trade union leaders must be very worried about the fact that an average of 4.6 million of workers are dependent on the Ministerial Determinations as they have no trade union to represent them. Whilst I fully understand that sectors that are covered by Sectoral determinations are often the most difficult to organise, at least 22 years into democracy should have given enough time for unions to craft strategies to organise these workers.
We must leverage the space created by our labour laws to maximise trade union density in all sectors of our economy. The 76% unorganised workers in the economy remains a challenge that could diminish mass based trade unions and dismantle all what has been achieved.
This democracy has worked for the working class of this country. Our labour law dispensation is an envy of many countries around the world. The right to organise and organisational rights that accrue as a result thereof, are among the best that trade unionists can ever want.
Let us recall that our people demand of us to do things that could make an impact; and they demand of us programmes to build a growing economy which generates more decent jobs, redistribution of wealth, income and opportunities to benefit the society. Together we must tackle urgent challenges; craft interventions that have the potential to make the biggest impact in the shortest possible time.
You know as much as I do that the triple challenge of Unemployment, poverty and inequality, is still very much with us and this is not helped by the fact that the state of the global economy and by extension our economy, are in dire straits.
Workers are losing jobs in most of our economic sectors and this will require leadership and the ability to rise up to the challenge. In doing this work, we need to be frank and honest about what is to be done and we must to have the courage to get out of our comfort zones. We must be ready to accept that whilst some of the interventions may sit uncomfortable with our traditions, they may be what is needed at this time.
SOUTH AFRICAN LABOUR LAWS
Chairperson; I submit that our Labour Laws are a true reflection of the aspirations of our people as defined in the Freedom Charter of 1955 and many subsequent Declarations of our movement. The recent amendments to our labour laws confirm that indeed, we understand what consolidating the revolutionary gains of the working class means.
It is for that reason that those who are against progress and who seek to reinstate the status quo as existed before 1994, have used every trick in the book to attack our Labour Laws and the recent amendments. They had become used to cheap labour and repression of workers as the modicum of capital accumulation. Now that the new labour law dispensation seeks to abolish all forms of exploitation of workers, the labour laws are therefore accused of being rigid and anti-economic development. Making sure that workers are protected from exploitation can never be anti-economic development, but pro-progress.
We as government are disciplined cadres of our revolutionary alliance and therefore, we will not be swayed from our resolve to protect workers in general and vulnerable workers in particular using the legislative instruments at our disposal. Our labour laws are sound and often referred to as among the best in the world for both employers and workers alike. The checks and balances that are found in our labour laws are top notch on all accounts.
The affirmation that our labour market dispensation is premised on focusing on the promotion of minimum conditions to restore workers dignity as a people, is correct. It is also correct that the minimum conditions that we promote, give particular attention to issues of discrimination, equality, equity and vulnerability in the work place.
TRANSFORMATION IN THE WORKPLACE
Comrades: Whilst South Africa has made huge strides in transforming South Africa into a better place for all who live in it, transforming the workplace is the assignment that is still far from finish. It is ludicrous that some voices are already calling for sunset clauses on the Employment Equity when in actual fact, there is no sign that the sun has even arisen in some sectors.
Let me ask these pertinent questions which were at the center of why the recent amendment were necessary.
i. Is it correct that a worker can be a casual for the rest of his or her working life?
ii. Why should a worker be a temporary worker forever when the job that he/she does is permanent?
iii. Why should a worker just because he/she is employed by a labour broker not be able to take his/her case to the CCMA?
iv. Why should there be differences in pay and conditions of work between and among employees performing the same or substantially the same work, or work of equal value?
v. Why should a work seeker be charged a fee in order to be placed by temporary employment services Agency?
I submit that in the main, the recent labour law amendments were driven, largely by the 2009 ruling party’s Manifesto, and by giving careful consideration to these questions. So it was the exercise of consolidating the gains, tooling and retooling the labour market institutions so that they can do their work better.
I urge you to make time to familiarise yourselves with the revamped laws so that you can see for yourselves how they contribute towards our National Democratic Revolution.
We are very pleased that at the very least, most of what became the final Labour Law product, was the outcome of negotiations by social partners in Nedlac. Where absolute consensus could not be found in terms with few areas of the input from the general public, rigorous Economic Impact Assessment Tests were used. So I can say with no fear of contradiction that these laws were a co-creation by all our social partners, Organised Labour playing the leadership role.
Chairperson, I am advised however, that there are some employers who have dismissed workers in order to side-step the new amended laws. Others are contemplating approaching the Courts of the land seeking to water down the transformational character of the revamped labour laws. You will know that this has been the case for many years that some employers respond by dismissing workers every time when new labour law amendments that favor vulnerable workers are put in place.
Same thing happened in 1996 when the new LRA became law and it also happened in 1998 when the BCEA became law.
Let me however alert you to the fact that employers who are engaging in this practice, will fall foul of provisions in the new law that are designed to prevent this practice if it is proven that they are doing so purely to side-step their legal obligations. As for those who are seeking Court intervention with malicious intents, government will be keeping a close eye on them.
Our Labour Inspectorate and Enforcement have been given more powers to do their job better, but they can only do so with your help on the ground.
IMPORTANCE OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
Comrades; Collective bargaining has in the recent past, occupied the centre stage in the public discourse concerning many issues regarding the recent developments in the industrial relations world of work. We have seen many analogies of the recent developments citing many things as the root-causes. Some are blaming government for being on the side of the workers; others are accusing labour laws of being too rigid, whilst others are pointing to social and economic deficit and the slow pace of transforming the workplace, as the main reasons for the challenges in our industrial relations.
Collective bargaining is an important pillar of our labour relations dispensation, and it remains one of the most important instruments to manage the inherent conflict in the industrial relations. It is also my firm belief that, collective bargaining is capable of addressing the challenge of unemployment, inequality and poverty in our society.
Comrades, evidence has shown that the Union density in the recent years has declined from about 36% in 1997 to about 24% lately. This means some 76% of workers remain unorganised;
Comrades it is said that Unions are quick to call workers out on strikes even in cases where a strike has no real potential of producing different results. Strikes tend to be protracted yet workers are often no better off than they would have been if the strike was somewhat shorter. It seems therefore that there is a disconnect between a long strike and the value of the final settlement.
Why go out on strike for several weeks or months if the final settlement is a mere half a percent? During the earlier times of union formations, the union leaders used to say that a strike that lasts for more than five days is lost, but today you even hear union leaders bragging about how long they were able to sustain a strike with zero recognition of the post-traumatic stress that often visit members after the strike.
It does not seem like the cost and benefit analysis informs the union leadership when deciding to call workers out on strike and at which point does a strike needs to be called off.
It looks like strikes are no longer considered as the last resort after everything else has failed and why is that? Well there are many conspiracy theories that are doing rounds in the public domain.
Others are saying strikes have become a fashion statement and are often used as something to prove a point among rival unions, rather than a tool to get what workers want. I am of the view that once the strike begins to severely hurt the very workers that it seeks to help, that should be the time when the leadership needs to re-think.
I am raising these issues comrades, as a wake-up call for all of us and the urgent need to go back to basics. Consolidating the gains of the working class is not helped by these developments and at best these will be a recipe that will compromise and roll-back all what has been achieved. Once again I argue that the consolidation of our revolutionary gains dependent entirely on the unity of the working class. If the working class is in disarray, we will lose the contestation of ideas resulting in the erosion of our gains.
I can say without fear of contradiction that the recent amendments to our labour laws went a long way in reinforcing the protection of workers in general and vulnerable workers in particular. The percentage of disabled workers remain too low in our individuals organisations, it remains our task to fight for their inclusion. You can also glean all the ruling party’s election manifestos and I can guarantee you that you will find that, protection of workers feature prominently in all of them.
As we go out to cast our votes on 3 August 2016, we must take a deep breath and recall where we come from as a nation and the amount of work that remains to be done.
What we have achieved to date is significant and what remains to be done is equally significant.
Let’s go with the tried and tested, the only party that has at least 22 years’ experience of governing.
Together let’s move South Africa forward.
I thank you