SOUTH AFRICA’S Communication Workers Union (CWU) secretary-general Aubrey Tshabalala has accused the top executives of the state-owned telecommunications company Telkom of getting rich by sacking workers.
Last Wednesday, Telkom announced that it had written letters to the trade unions saying that it may be retrenching thousands of staff, putting the total at roughly 3,000 people.
Then on Friday, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) said that Telkom has more retrenchments on the cards and will be axing 3,000 more employees from May, taking the total to 6,000.
Following the initial announcement of the proposed retrenchments last week, the company said it would need to let roughly 20% of its workforce go, due to market conditions, regulatory uncertainty and an overly competitive environment.
Tshabalala accused the company’s top execs of getting rich as a result.
‘As the CWU, we find the presentation by the company ridiculous and undermining not only workers, but the country at large,’ he said.
‘In 2016, the company presented almost the same reasons to cut over 2,000 jobs and further outsourced thousands more jobs.
‘The executives of Telkom rewarded themselves in 2018 with a total sum of R153.9 million for dismissing workers, and then claimed the company made profits,’ he continued.
According to Tshabalala, Telkom has grown by more than 58% in the 2018/19 financial year due to mobile services, and subscriptions grew by more than 85% to 9.7 million subscribers.
‘This was at a time when the company refused to reward workers with a decent salary increase.
‘Instead, workers pocketed only 4% on average in a three-year cycle,’ he said.
Tshabalala said government must shoulder some of the blame for the retrenchments.
‘The CWU wants to know when the board took this decision, and who was present.
‘We all know (these networks) have been at the forefront of retrenching workers in the past years.
‘Does this mean we have a government that supports retrenchments? The CWU is calling for an urgent meeting with the ruling party and the minister (Mboweni) to resolve this,’ Tshabalala said.
It was first reported last Wednesday that Telkom has written letters to unions saying it planned to lay off thousands of Telkom’s 15,000-strong workforce.
The job cuts will primarily be around its Openserve business after Telkom announced last year it would decommission its copper network in favour of fibre.
Its consumer business and wholesale division will be affected.
Meanwhile the Solidarity trade union said on Monday that the government’s economic policy is responsible for the ‘retrenchment bloodbath’ in South Africa’s manufacturing sector.
The union’s deputy general secretary for mining and engineering, Willie Venter, said government needed to urgently re-evaluate its existing economic policies that suppressed the manufacturing industry, in order to avert job losses.
‘Although companies cite the many challenges experienced in local and international markets as reasons for retrenchments, they also consistently argue that more competitive electricity and transport tariffs are needed to be able to compete with international competitors.
‘The government makes it impossible for companies to compete internationally because of its role in increased productions costs, the erratic electricity supply and increases in electricity tariffs, which are the main reasons for the retrenchments,’ said Venter.
He said that following a ‘disastrous’ 2019 in the manufacturing industry – during which more than 7,000 retrenchments took place – the ‘retrenchment bloodbath’ continued with Samancor Chrome and Glencore Alloys both announcing on January 17 that they would be laying off 600 and 665 employees respectively.
Solidarity would assist its members during the retrenchment process, he said.
‘The government must take note of the umpteenth indicator that the contraction of the manufacturing industry is continuing, and that an urgent re-evaluation of the existing economic policy is needed to prevent further job losses,’ Venter warned.
Consultation dates with Samancor and Glencor are yet to be confirmed.
South African chrome firms on Monday warned of more than 1,200 potential job cuts, citing power cuts, rising electricity tariffs and increased competition from overseas.
The potential layoffs highlight the risks posed to Africa’s most industrialised economy by state power utility Eskom, which is struggling with breakdowns at its coal-fired power plants and is mired in a financial crisis.
Joint venture partners Glencore and Merafe Resources could cut up to 665 jobs and have started consultations with workers at their Rustenburg ferrochrome smelter.
‘The consultation process is as a result of deteriorating operations and market conditions across the South African ferrochrome industry, including unsustainable electricity tariffs and interruptions, cross subsidies and real cost inflation,’ Merafe said in a statement.
‘The Rustenburg Smelter has suffered material financial losses which are expected to continue for the foreseeable future,’ the statement said.
- Another apartheid-era death is being reinvestigated after former justice and correctional services minister Michael Masutha authorised the reopening of an inquest last year into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett.
The application was brought by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the inquest commenced at 09:30 on Monday in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg before Judge Motsamai Makume.
The inquest will proceed for five weeks
Aggett was a medical doctor and trade unionist who worked mainly in overcrowded hospitals in historically black neighbourhoods, such as Soweto, Mthatha and Thembisa.
The security police detained him and his partner, Dr Elizabeth Floyd, in November 1981.
He died on February 5, 1982, after 70 days of detention without trial, under mysterious circumstances.
According to the police, Aggett, 28, hanged himself while he was held at the then-John Vorster Square police station.
In 2016, the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, a teacher, was also reinvestigated. Timol died in police custody 49 years ago.
Police ruled his death as a suicide in 1972. However, a private investigation launched by Timol’s family into his death uncovered new evidence.
The family presented this evidence to the NPA and asked that the investigation be reopened.
According to the Timol Family Trust, the NPA agreed there was compelling evidence and said it would investigate.
Former security branch officer Joao Jan Rodrigues, 80, accused of killing Timol, has applied for a permanent stay of prosecution from the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg based on his age. The ruling has not been made yet.
In a statement in April last year, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services said ‘the inquest findings into the death of Aggett were met with condemnation both domestically and internationally due to the narrow approach adopted by the magistrate who excluded critical evidence depicting a pattern of sensory deprivation and torture’.
‘As in the case of Dr Hoosen Haffejee and Ahmed Timol, the State is committed to ensuring that perpetrators of apartheid-era crimes who have not been granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are brought to book,’ continued the statement.
The NPA has also requested the police initiate an investigation into the case when representations were received from former colleagues of Aggett.
The police investigation revealed several new facts that raise important questions about the findings of the magistrate who conducted the first inquest.
Last year, Masutha said the families of apartheid-era victims deserved to get answers on how their loved ones were murdered by the security police.
‘Our democratic government has been magnanimous enough to give the perpetrators an opportunity to tell the truth and receive amnesty for the crimes they committed in the name of the evil apartheid regime,’ he added.
The former minister said some of the perpetrators ‘chose to sit back and not say anything’.
‘Perhaps they hoped that their crimes would be forgotten.’
Masutha said the government owed it to the families of activists like Aggett to get to the bottom of the circumstances under which they died as well as to ensure that their killers have their day in court.