Thousands of Greeks rallied behind a “Yes” vote in a referendum on whether to accept tough terms demanded by creditors.]]> |||
Athens - Thousands of Greeks worried about the prospect of crashing out of Europe's currency union rallied in Athens on Tuesday behind a “Yes” vote in a referendum on whether to accept tough terms demanded by creditors to keep the country afloat.
One banner read: “We will not become the last Soviet state”. Many carried flags of the European Union. They chanted “Greece, Europe, democracy!”
Turnout was comparable to the “No” camp's own rally a day earlier in support of left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, when tens of thousands swarmed to the main Syntagma square in front of parliament.
Greece faces defaulting at midnight on a loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund after the collapse of negotiations with creditors at the weekend on a new aid programme.
Tsipras called a referendum on the creditors' offer for July 5, and has told Greeks to vote 'no'.
While many Greeks believe the creditors' demand of tax hikes and pension cuts would harm a country suffering from one of the worst economic depressions of modern times, others fear rejection of the offer could set in chain an even more damaging departure from the common currency.
“It's going to be difficult either way but with Europe we have a better future,” said 24-year-old graduate student Paula Papagiannopoli. “I feel a sense of insecurity; I don't know if we'll have any money or any work in the future.”
European leaders are telling Greeks that rejection of austerity would send Greece crashing out of the 19-nation euro zone and condemn it to even greater economic and social turmoil. A “Yes” vote may unseat Tsipras and open the door to fresh negotiations on a new aid programme.
There have been no published opinion polls to suggest which way the vote may go. A majority of Greeks have long said they favour staying within the euro zone, a result Tsipras says remains his aim despite the warnings from Brussels.
“Things are difficult these days for all people but it's fundamental for us to stay in Europe,” said nursing student Irene Mathioudaki, 21. “Europe has given us a difficult deal but a euro exit would be the worst thing.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would not negotiate on a new bailout agreement before Greece's referendum.]]> |||
Berlin - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that Germany would not negotiate on a new bailout agreement before Greece's referendum which is planned for Sunday.
She said that this applied regardless of whether new offers were made on Tuesday, suggesting it was now too late to vet them. Merkel placed the blame on the Greek government for allowing its bailout programme to expire tonight.
“Before a referendum, as planned, is carried out, we won't negotiate on anything new at all,” Merkel said.
The Greek government sent a letter to the chairman of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers on Tuesday seeking a last-minute extension of its bailout and a two-year funding and debt restructuring programme.
The German finance ministry sent the new Greek paper to financial experts in the Bundestag lower house of parliament on Tuesday evening.
Merkel told a meeting of conservative lawmakers earlier in the day that it would only be possible to consider earlier negotiations with Greece if Athens called off the referendum but she added this was not to be expected, participants said.
Merkel said the Greek government had been warned for weeks that the time for a bailout extension was running out and that Germany's Bundestag would have to approve such a step, which was now no longer possible.
In the German ruling coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats (SPD), the new proposals from Athens are therefore seen as tricks by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to show that he had wanted to prevent the second aid package from expiring, three sources said.
Merkel stressed in the conservative lawmakers' meeting that if necessary, a clash with Athens should be accepted to defend the principles of the currency union, namely that countries only get help in return for doing something themselves.
Two executives from California-based Uber will face trial in France on September 30, as part of a crackdown on the “illegal” taxi service.]]> |||
Paris - Two executives from California-based Uber will face trial in France on September 30, the Paris public prosecutor said on Tuesday, part of a French crackdown on what the government calls an illegal taxi service.
Thibaud Simphal, manager of Uber France, and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, general manager for western Europe, were detained by police on Monday in an investigation that earlier led to Uber's offices being raided by police in March.
The investigation focuses on one of the company's local transport options known as UberPOP, which allows passengers to book rides with private drivers via mobile phones, a service which licenced taxi operators say is unfair competition.
A French law from October 2014 already placed a ban on putting clients in touch with unregistered drivers with apps such as UberPOP. But Uber has contested the rule, saying it is counter to the right to freedom to do business.
The Uber executives will be judged on charges including carrying out deceitful commercial practices and being complicit in illegal operation of a taxi service by providing drivers with means to do so and encouraging them to, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said in a statement.
Charges also include keeping and using personal data without authorisation by France's data privacy watchdog.
Uber said in a statement later on Tuesday that it wanted to “continue constructive talks with the government” on transport regulations and that it hoped France's Constitutional Council would give its view on the 2014 law by the end of September. It did not comment on the trial.
Uber has triggered protests by taxi drivers from London to New Delhi as it upends traditional business models that require professional drivers to pay often steep fees for licences to operate cabs.
The various regulatory battles could affect the valuation of the unlisted company, currently above $40 billion based on its most recent fund raisings.
In France, the backlash intensified last week when taxi drivers blockaded major transport hubs in a sometimes violent protest against what they say is unfair competition.
The protests were among the fiercest in a series of strikes and demonstrations across Europe against San Francisco-based Uber, whose backers include Goldman Sachs and Google .
An inter-ministerial committee in charge of revitalising mining towns is making progress with billions already earmarked for several projects, the presidency said.]]> |||
Cape Town – An inter-ministerial committee (IMC) in charge of revitalising the country’s mining towns was making progress with billions of rand already having been earmarked for several projects, the presidency said on Tuesday.
“Overall, R18 billion has been dedicated to ongoing work in distressed mining communities, benefiting the following provinces: Eastern Cape; Free State; Gauteng; KwaZulu-Natal; Limpopo; Mpumalanga and North West,” a statement from the President’s office said.
“The bulk of this funding is from government, with mining companies contributing approximately a third of the funding. “
President Jacob Zuma appointed the IMC shortly after the Marikana massacre in which over 34 miners were shot dead by police during labour unrest at the Lonmin mines in the North West town.
The department of human settlement ringfenced over R419 million in the 2014 financial year for upgrading informal settlement in mining towns in Limpopo, Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West.
“Overall, over 7 000 units have been delivered in the mining towns,” the statement said.
For the current financial year, R1 billion would be ringfenced for government’s plan to build 19,000 houses.
Two of the housing projects were in Marikana where about 500 houses would be built on land donated by Lonmin.
The department’s housing agencies would set aside another R1 billion for bridge financing and loans for miners.
The department, in conjunction with the labour and mineral resources departments (DMR), were also implementing measures to improve the working conditions of mine workers, the presidency added.
“The departments…are working towards alignment of the industry’s occupational health and safety policy and the required legislative changes to facilitate ease of compensation and other benefits towards an enhanced social protection system.”
The compensation system would be reorganised to ensure current and former miners benefited.
The DMR was tasked with improving mine inspections and audits.
“To date, the DMR has given additional focus on enforcement and inspections through 40 regional medical inspectors, analysis of annual medical reports from the mines’ provision of standards on workplace exposures, implementing inspection and audit tools for occupational health services, promotion of occupational health in the mining industry and engaging in reviewing research relevant to occupational medicine in the mining industry.”
Zuma’s office said the President was making good on his promise in the State-of-the-Nation address to launch a mining version of Operation Phakisa – the integrated delivery system in the health and oceans economy sectors.
“To date the Presidency has engaged in more than 15 consultative meetings with the CEOs of mining companies, representatives of civil society and national office bearers of labour unions and there is overwhelming support for the Phakisa process,” the statement said.
“We are determined, together with our stakeholders, to steer the mining industry towards increased investment, growth and transformation whilst being mindful of the social, environmental and health impacts on our people in mining towns and labour sending areas.”
The non-agricultural formal sector shed 44 000 jobs in the first quarter of this year and saw gross and average earnings rise, Stats SA said.]]> |||
Johannesburg – South Africa’s non-agricultural formal sector shed 44 000 jobs in the first quarter of this year and saw gross and average earnings rise, Stats SA said in its Quarterly Employment Statistics (QES) report on Tuesday.
The sector has lost 43 000 jobs overall in the year to end-March with the trade and community services sector hardest hit, while the manufacturing sector added jobs.
The QES differs from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) in that its samples employment among VAT registered formal businesses, excluding agriculature. The LFS samples the actual labour force.
The QES shows that between December last year and March this year the number of formal sector jobs fell from 8 986 000 to 8 942 000.
Over the year to March, jobs fell from 8 985 000 to 8 942 000.
Over the quarter, the trade sector lost 23 000 jobs, while community services lost 19 000 and the construction sector, which has previously suffered heavy losses, shed 2 000 jobs.
The mining sector, which is recovering from last year’s strikes, shed 3 000 jobs over the quarter. The manufacturing sector, a key job creator for government’s industrialisation policy, gained 4 000 jobs.
Commuters in Gauteng will not be affected by any Putco bus services disruptions, Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi said.]]> |||
Johannesburg – Commuters in Gauteng will not be affected by any Putco bus services disruptions, Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi said on Tuesday.
Over 80 000 commuters who make use of Putco bus services in the Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Sedibeng municipalities were in danger of being left stranded after Putco announced its suspension of its services to those areas, apparently due to ill managed bus subsidies and contracts that were not extended.
Vadi moved quickly to assure commuters that they would not be stranded.
“I am pleased that there will be no disruption of bus services to the public as we have signed a short term agreement with Autopax,” said Vadi.
Earlier this year Putco confirmed its intention to stop its operations in the affected municipalities. The department then negotiated with Putco to continue providing services until June 30. Putco therefore did not renew eight contracts on Monday and the department was forced to step in to ensure continuation of services to commuters in the interim.
Autopax, a state-owned entity and subsidiary of Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), has been appointed for three months to operate the eight affected contracts until a more permanent solution was found.
“The department has entered into a temporary, three-month contract with Autopax to render continuity of services to the commuters in the affected areas of Mamelodi, Midvaal and Kathorus,” said Vadi.
Autopax would provide services to commuters on the same routes as Putco and at the same rates. The routes are: Kathorus, Edenvale, Germiston and Linbro Park; Kathorus and Johannesburg; Kathorus, Boksburg and Kempton Park; Evaton, Sebokeng, Orange Farm, Meyerton and surrounding areas; Mamelodi and southern suburbs of the Pretoria area; Mamelodi and eastern suburbs of the Pretoria area; Mamelodi and northern suburbs of the Pretoria area; and Mamelodi and Pretoria CBD.
Vadi appealed to commuters to “be patient should there be any teething problems in the changeover of operators”.
During this interim period, the department was also dealing with a pending litigation case with Putco over whether or not Autopax was compelled to take on employees who worked for Putco.
This matter was expected to be heard in court on Tuesday.
A strike is looming after the largest municipal union and Salga failed to reach a wage agreement after three rounds of negotiations.]]> |||
Johannesburg – A strike was looming as the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and the SA Local Government Association (Salga) reached a deadlock in wage negotiations, the union said on Tuesday.
Salga, however, said conciliatory talks were still underway with the union.
“At this moment, we are preparing for conciliation,” Salgaspokesman for negotiations Tahir Sema said.
“We are still willing and available to negotiate and are fully committed to breaking the deadlock. However, we have canvassed with municipalities around the country and simply cannot afford the double digit demands currently on the table. This would require a reduction in service delivery and we simply cannot do this,” said Sema.
After three rounds of fruitless negotiations over a requested wage increase, the current collective agreement between the two was under threat of collapsing.
Samwu was seeking an 11 percent wage increase, down from the 16 percent originally sought. Salga has, in turn, revised their numbers from an original 4.5 percent increase to 5.9 percent.
The conciliatory talks form part of the Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) which are set to take place from 1-3 July.
With Samwu already having significantly revised their initial demands, it is unclear whether the latest negotiations would prove sufficient to bring a satisfactory end to the deadlock, thus sparking fears of a strike.
In a statement, Samwu national media officer Papikie Mohale said that Samwu would not be backing down from their demands.
“We firmly believe that our members’ demands are reasonable and achievable,” said Mohale.
The demands also included an across-the-board housing allowance of R1,200 for Samwu members.
“We remain resolute, unshaken and unapologetic,” said Mohale.
“We will not dignify Salga with an apology for demanding living and decent wages for our members. If Salga wants to conclude these negotiations on the streets, they should know that the ground is fertile, our members are ready and we shall meet Salga on the street to defend and champion our members’ interests.”
The dual demands of increased wages and increased housing allowance funds for its members were the requirements to be met in order to prevent strike action being taken by Samwu.
“It is the responsibility of Salga to ensure workers have their dignity,” said Mohale.
“It is embarrassing for a working adult to still be staying with their parents because of the slave wages they receive. The cellphone allowance alone of Salga’s acting CEO is larger than the average salary of a municipal worker.”
He said that if no common ground was reached in the final conciliatory meeting between Samwu and Salga on Thursday, a Certificate of Non-Resolution would be signed by both sides and a nation-wide strike undertaken by the union.
South African Airways has seen its passenger volumes grow by 6% since their new financial year started in April.]]> |||
Johannesburg – South African Airways (SAA) has seen its passenger volumes grow by 6% in the three months since their new financial year started in April, the airline said on Tuesday.
At a media briefing at Airways Park in Johannesburg, acting Chief Executive Officer Nico Bezuidenhout said this was due to SAA utilising its seats better and selling more of their available seats in spite of weak demand.
“Demand in the South African market remained weak with a 7% growth in available capacity across the domestic market against overall growth of over 2%,” said Bezuidenhout. This implied an oversupply of 5% which could put pressure on prices in the months ahead.
The company said it had benefited from lower oil prices which had help reduce operating costs by 14% compared to the same period last year. SAA said Africa was its best performing market segment, with all routes showing positive growth. It had also launched a route from Accra in Ghana to Washington DC in the United States with the first flight scheduled for the beginning of August this year.
Outgoing FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana has sold almost R25m worth of FirstRand shares, the company announced.]]> |||
Johannesburg - Outgoing FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana has sold almost R25 million worth of FirstRand shares, the company announced on Tuesday.
Although no reason for the sale was given, it appears to be in part, a preparation for his pending departure from the company in September as the bulk of the share was transferred to his associate company, Cygnitouch Investments.
The shares were sold in two tranches at a price of R53.40 cents each. The first batch of 353 836 shares with a value of R18.8 million were transferred to Cygnitouch on June 24, while the second batch saw about 109 639 shares with a value of R5.8 million being sold on the same day in an off market sale.
Nxasana, who is one of the founders of South Africa’s fifth largest audit firm, Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo and a former Telkom CEO, is expected to pursue private interests once his departure from his FirstRand post is effective end of September.
The head of the European Commission made a last-minute offer to try to persuade Greek leader Alexis Tsipras to accept a bailout deal.]]> |||
Athens - The head of the European Commission made a last-minute offer to try to persuade Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to accept a bailout deal he has rejected before a referendum on Sunday which EU partners say will be a choice of whether to stay in the euro.
There was no official response from the leftwing government, elected in January on a promise to end austerity, but Greek daily Kathimerini reported that Tsipras had told Brussels he was considering the move.
A Greek official told Reuters: “There has been a lot of movement in the last few hours, in the direction of a new proposal.”
After months of wrangling and acrimony, the growing possibility that Athens could be forced out of the single currency brought into sharp focus the chaos that could be unleashed in Greece as well as the danger that would arise for the stability of the euro.
“What would happen if Greece came out of the euro? There would be a negative message that euro membership is reversible,” said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who a week ago declared that he did not fear contagion from Greece.
“People may think that if one country can leave the euro, others could do so in the future. I think that is the most serious problem that could arise.”
EU and Greek government sources said Jean-Claude Juncker had offered to convene an emergency meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Tuesday to approve an aid payment to prevent Athens defaulting, if Tsipras sent a written acceptance of the terms.
He also dangled the prospect of a negotiation on debt rescheduling later this year if Athens said “yes”.
The last-ditch bid from Brussels came as uncertainty built ahead of Sunday's referendum, with a string of European leaders warning that it would effectively be a choice between remaining in the euro or reverting to the drachma.
Opinion polls show Greeks in favour of holding on to the euro but a rally of tens of thousands of anti-austerity protesters in Athens on Monday highlighted the defiance many in Greece feel about being pushed into a corner by the lenders.
Tsipras broke off negotiations with the Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank and announced early on Saturday a referendum on the bailout terms next Sunday, giving voters just one week to debate the fundamental issues at stake.
Under Juncker's offer, Tsipras would have to send a written acceptance by Tuesday of the terms published by the EU executive on Sunday and agree to campaign in favour of the bailout in the planned July 5 referendum.
European Union leaders hammered home the message that the real choice facing Greeks is whether to stay in the euro zone or return to the drachma, even though the EU has no legal way of forcing a member state to leave the single currency.
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin, who has been most sympathetic to Athens in the negotiations, said in a television interview that negotiations could continue if Greeks voted “Yes” on Sunday, but added: “With a 'no', we go into an unknown territory.”
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned against turning the referendum into a personality contest between Tsipras and Juncker or German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“This is not a referendum on European leaders. This is a run-off vote: euro or drachma,” Renzi told the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore.
“The Greeks do not have to say whether they love their prime minister or the head of the European Commission more. They have to say whether they want to stay in the single currency.”
As the hours ticked by before the bailout officially expires later on Tuesday, Greek officials have said the government will not make a 1.6 billion euro debt repayment to the IMF which also falls due on the same day.
If that does not happen, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde will immediately report to the global lender's board at close of business, Washington time, that Greece is “in arrears” - the official euphemism for default.
It will be the first time in the history of the IMF that an advanced economy has defaulted on a loan from the world's financial backstop, putting Athens in the same bracket as Zimbabwe, Sudan and Cuba.
Greece has received nearly 240 billion euros in two EU/IMF bailouts since 2010. Leftist Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis argues that Athens has had no benefit from the money, which largely went to repay German and French banks which had imprudently lent large sums to successive Greek governments.
The Greek economy has shrunk by more than 25 percent since 2009 and unemployment has soared to over 25 percent, including more than 50 percent of young job seekers.
While the Tsipras government blames German-driven austerity for this economic disaster, EU officials note that other euro zone countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Spain that received bailouts for the state or banks have carried out similar reforms and returned to economic growth, even if unemployment remains high.
Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's lowered its sovereign rating on Greece to 'CCC minus' from 'CCC' late on Monday, saying the probability of Athens exiting the eurozone was now about 50 percent.
Tsipras put his own position on the line in a television interview on Monday evening, saying he would respect the result of the referendum vote but would not lead a government to administer “austerity in perpetuity”.
“If the Greek people want to have a humiliated prime minister, there are a lot of them out there. It won't be me,” he said in an interview on Greek state television as one of the biggest rallies seen in Athens in years was taking place.
The show of defiance came at the end of a day that started with stunned Greeks waking up to shuttered banks, long supermarket lines and overwhelming uncertainty over their future in the euro zone.
Juncker's final offer incorporated a proposal from Greece to set value-added tax rates on hotels at 13 percent, rather than the 23 percent in the lenders' original plan. It was not immediately clear whether there would be any additional changes.
If the offer were accepted, the euro zone finance ministers could adopt a statement saying that a 2012 pledge to consider stretching out loan maturities, lowering interest rates and extending an interest payment moratorium on euro zone loans to Greece would be implemented in October.
The offer would be conditional on a letter to Juncker, Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande arriving in time to arrange an emergency meeting of the Eurogroup on Tuesday.