Hundreds of workers march for end to pay freeze

An end to low wages and the moratorium on salary hikes is an overarching demand, but individual memorandums also reveal the particular concerns of workers in different provinces.

Hundreds of Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and affiliated union members marched in several cities on Thursday 7 October, calling for the government and private sector to lift freezes on wages among other demands.The one-day strike also commemorated World Day for Decent Work, which was launched in 2008 by the International Trade Union Confederation.

In a statement, Cosatu said: “We want the reversal of budget cuts that led to an unacceptable wage freeze in public service, the disintegration of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, and retrenchments in state-owned companies.” Cosatu also wants the private sector to abandon its investment strike. “This year billions were given away in tax cuts when that money could have been used to increase government spending,” it said. 

In Cape Town, about 300 people marched to the Civic Centre. Xolisile Guwa, a national wage negotiator and member of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union, said: “Employers are not always willing to give or negotiate wage increases. And when they do, it’s below inflation.” He said budget cuts to institutions negatively “impacted the functionality and efficiency of labour dispute resolutions”.

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Jonovan Rustin, Western Cape secretary for the South African Democratic Teachers Union, said severely overcrowded classrooms meant teachers are not working in a conducive environment. “Schools in wealthier suburbs can go online from home during this pandemic, whereas children from underprivileged schools don’t have the resources or data to do the same.” 

Following the deadly shooting of a grade 6 teacher at Heinz Park Primary School in Philippi last month, Rustin said unions are also calling on the government to provide adequate security in schools.

Protesters handed over a memorandum to the City of Cape Town’s employee relations manager, Justice Nedzamba, who accepted it on behalf of mayor Dan Plato. The protesters are demanding a moratorium on all shop stewards’ disciplinary hearings owing to inconsistencies, and that all dismissed members be reinstated. They are also calling for an end to the expanded public works programme and that the City instead fill at least 10 000 permanent low-level vacancies. They want the City to implement a multi-year wage increase agreement.

“I will study the memo and then we will make a decision. We will also be releasing a media statement with a response,” said Nedzamba. The City has 14 days to respond.

Gauteng priorities

In Johannesburg, about 100 workers gathered at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown. The group marched to Gauteng premier David Makhura’s office near the square to hand over a memorandum.

The demands included an end to the “butchering of collective bargaining”, for the government to strengthen its efforts to combat gender-based violence and the scrapping of e-tolls in the province.

Louisa Modikwe, Cosatu’s Gauteng secretary, read out the memorandum and gave the government 14 days to respond. Member of the executive council for transport Jacob Mamabolo accepted the memo and signed on behalf of the premier. The same memorandum was also handed over to officials at the Minerals Council South Africa in Marshalltown.

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Speaking to workers, Mamabolo said: “We are united in the call for the scrapping of e-tolls because they are underperforming on their own target of generating revenue.” He said the Gauteng government has made a submission to the national government on e-tolls, proposing “more efficient ways of raising revenue to grow the road network”.

Cosatu officials also expressed their solidarity with steel workers from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa who are currently on strike.

Eastern Cape spotlight

In Gqeberha, over 150 people dressed in red marched to the City Hall at Vuyisile Mini Square.

Nyameka Macanda, second deputy president of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), said nurses should be compensated for the risks they took during the pandemic.

“More than three million people have lost jobs as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. This means many people are unemployed. As Cosatu we must defend jobs. We are asking the government to give a token of appreciation towards healthcare workers and other workers, but our calls are falling on deaf ears.”

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A nurse at Dora Nginza hospital, who asked to remain anonymous, said the working conditions were improving albeit at a slow pace. “The government should hire more staff to address the staff shortage. This is affecting our morale.”

Nehawu Gqeberha chairperson Phumzile Mdunyelwa said: “We are also here to lobby for the improvement of working conditions for women. There are lots of sex pests at work. Some senior managers and foremen demand sex from women before they hire or promote them. We want this to end.”

The group handed a memo to an official of the Department of Employment and Labour.

This article was first published in GroundUp.

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