Saftu Set To Call National Shut-Down

SAFTU marching to the South African Parliament last Thursday for better wages and working conditions
SAFTU marching to the South African Parliament last Thursday for better wages and working conditions

THE SOUTH African Federation of Trade Unions – and unions affiliated with the federation – applied pressure to companies employing their members last Thursday, with unified demonstrations highlighting worker struggles.

The federation has put its weight behind members of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw), in their ongoing disputes with pharmacy giant Dis-Chem Pharmacies, Edcon, Premier Foods and the plastics sector.

Saftu is the labour federation to which Numsa, Fawu and Nupsaw are now affiliated, since Numsa cut ties with its former labour federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions. The labour federation and the two unions marched to Parliament last Thursday morning for better wages and working conditions.

Nupsaw went on strike at Dis-Chem in November, demanding minimum salaries of R12,500 and guaranteed bonuses. The union claims to represent 14% of the pharmaceutical chain’s employees.

The march also showed support for Fawu, the union on strike at Premier Foods’ Blue Ribbon operations in Salt River Cape Town, where the union demanded a salary increase of 10%.

Saftu asked that the Department of Labour intervene in what it called the plastic sector’s attempt to ‘justify reneging on an agreement to cut the minimum wage of the lowest grades (of workers) from R40 an hour to R20 an hour’. A picket was also held outside one of Edgars’ facilities, warning the company against retrenching staff as part of its recapitalisation plan.

Meanwhile, Numsa is in the process of covering its bases for a radical workers party, which will contest power at next year’s general elections. Numsa, which is South Africa’s largest union, took part in a protracted strike in the plastics industry towards the end of the year, demanding a 15% increase in salaries for workers.

• The South African Federation of Trade Unions is set to stage a two-day national shutdown early next year to protest against rising unemployment and economic hardships affecting the poor and the working class.

It will be supported by 147 community organisations who are ‘increasingly isolated by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s promise of a new dawn’, the federation’s General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said last Thursday.

The mass action will also see demonstrations in Cape Town on budget day. ‘The two-day general strike on 26-27 March will be a total shut-down and an occupation of cities and towns by the unemployed and the working poor,’ said Vavi.

The federation has rejected the recently approved National Minimum Wage Bill, which gives workers a minimum pay of R20 per hour or a monthly wage of about R3,500 for a 40-hour week. Saftu says the strike is meant to send a strong voice to the government that ‘enough is enough’.

According to Vavi, the onslaught on the poor this year was worsened by the VAT increase from 14% to 15%, in the face of growing inequality, a jobs bloodbath and the related unemployment crisis. The federation said the new dawn, promised by Ramaphosa when he took over as president in February, had not done anything to alleviate the plight of the poor and the working class.

Saftu also believes the Jobs Summit and Investment Summit called by Ramaphosa failed to live up to expectations, and were nothing but ‘talk shops’. ‘The investment summit saw companies coming up to confirm what they have already been doing. It was not real investment into the economy,’ said the federation’s Deputy General Secretary, Moleko Phakedi.

‘The new dawn has given no hope to the working class. The conditions are getting worse by the day,’ he said. In October, official statistics showed that the unemployment rate increased to 27.5% at the end of the third quarter, up from 27.2%. South Africa’s ailing economy came out of recession in the third quarter, after reporting 2.2% GDP growth. The economy declined 2.6% in the first quarter and by a further 0.4% in the second, piling pressure on Ramaphosa’s government to steer into better economic health.

• The national minimum wage (NMW) will come into effect on January 1st next year, President Cyril Ramphosa announced on December 7th. ‘This is a great achievement for the working people of South Africa, who have had to endure generations of exploitation,’ he said.

‘It is a great achievement for the labour movement, which has placed this fundamental demand at the centre of its struggle for better conditions for workers,’ said the President, who founded the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) with James Motlatsi and Elijah Barayi in the 1980s and became the union’s first general secretary. He said the minimum wage set at R20 an hour (R3,500 a month) should also be seen as an achievement for business as it demonstrates the commitment of employers to fairer wages and better working conditions.

Jan Truter of explains as follows exactly what this means for employers and employees. R20 per hour: ‘The new minimum wage of R20 per hour applies across all sectors, with a few exceptions. The exceptions include domestic workers, farm/forestry workers and workers employed in Expanded Public Works Programmes.

‘Exceptions temporary: The exceptions will only be temporary. It is envisaged that there will be a gradual adjustment of domestic and farm/forestry workers’ wages to come in line with the NMW. As a first step, domestic workers’ minimum wages will be increased to a minimum rate of R15 per hour, and farm/forestry workers’ wages to a minimum rate of R18 per hour. The implementation dates of these increases have not yet been announced.

‘Immediate adjustments within certain sectors: Some sectors will have to adjust their minima upwards with effect from 1st January 2019 – these include the Hospitality Sector (where the current minimum for employers with less than 10 employees is R17.34 per hour) and the Wholesale and Retail Sector (where the minimum wage for several categories of workers is below R20 per hour, the lowest currently being R16.20).

‘Minimum monthly wage: For employees who work 45 hours per week, the minimum monthly wage will be just short of R3,900. ‘If the contract of employment makes provision for less than 45 hours per week, the monthly rate can be less than this amount. Employers are not permitted to unilaterally reduce hours of work or change other conditions of employment in response to the implementation of the NMW.

‘Are benefits included? Employers are restricted in the way that they structure the remuneration package.

‘The NMW excludes allowances that are paid to enable employees to work (such as transport and equipment), or payment in kind (such as board or accommodation), as well as bonuses, tips or food. So, for example, one cannot argue that you pay an employee less than R20 per hour because you contribute to their uniform or provide them with meals.

‘Reducing hours of work: Employers are not permitted to unilaterally change working hours due to the implementation of the NMW. Any reduction of hours of work will have to be negotiated.

‘Exemption: There is provision for employers to apply for exemption of up to a 10% reduction by means of an electronic system. At the time of the announcement of the implementation date there was no information available on how to go about this in practice.

‘Other changes: The other important changes to labour legislation, i.e. those relating to parental, adoption and surrogacy leave, as well as improvements to unemployment benefits, have been signed into law, but the implementation dates are not known. We shall deal with these as soon as the implementation dates are announced.’