The Nedlac performance report spoke of an existential risk to the forum, a view that Business Unity South Africa (Busa) agreed with, said Busa CEO Cas Coovadia.
He was commenting on the release of the report at the start of the annual National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) Summit on Friday.
“It is thus critical for Nedlac to grapple with its role, positioning, mandate, and value-add. Nedlac must ensure it is ‘fit-for-purpose’ to be relevant in the current context and the challenges of the next decade,” Coovadia said.
He said Nedlac needed to be a forum for social dialogue and focus on programmes on which there was the greatest scope for collaboration across stakeholders, “instead of being a conflictual platform”.
“Our success during Covid-19 was a sterling example of social compacting,” he added.
He said that on public policy matters, Nedlac needed to facilitate as much agreement as possible among stakeholders, but should not necessarily try to reach consensus at all costs.
Coovadia said the report highlighted the many crises faced by South Africa. This included a negative trend in critical economic and social indicators, ranging from falling GDP to increasing inflation, increasing unemployment and increasing public debt and debt servicing costs.
This was exacerbated by load shedding, deteriorating security conditions, the impact of climate change, and ongoing constraints to growth.
“This toxic mix has led to South Africa no longer being an attractive investment destination,” Coovadia said.
Global geopolitical dynamics were also volatile, and the Russia-Ukraine war, positioning on foreign policy, and some of the rhetoric around a valid move towards building a “south” bloc were all impacting negatively on the country.
He said Busa noted some “critical progress in Nedlac’s performance” in the report, particularly the decision by the Presidential Climate Commission to join Nedlac on a temporary basis and the work of the governance task team to review Nedlac’s founding documents to make it future-fit and ensure proper representation, mandates and positioning.
A stakeholder satisfaction survey showed that 73% of stakeholders were happy with Nedlac’s performance, while Nedlac had an unqualified audit opinion for the third year in a row with reduced findings.
Cosatu deputy general secretary Gerald Twala said that “at times some forget why we gather under the Nedlac umbrella”.
“Our fundamental mandate at all times is to resolve the ticking time bomb of unemployment. No society can sustain itself when four out of 10 citizens, six out of 10 youth cannot find a job.
“We cannot be proud as a nation when we remain the most unequal in the world, nor when, despite our efforts since 1994, we witness rising levels of poverty.
“It is worse when we reflect on the damage state capture has done to the state and economy as the toll it and our legacies of apartheid have done to our moral fabric as a nation,” Twala said.
He said some critics were tempted to mock Nedlac as a place where policies go to die, but the “facts and experiences of millions of workers and businesses tell a different story”.
“Six million farm, domestic, construction, retail, fuel, security and other workers who not long ago were paid as little as R6 an hour are today entitled to the national minimum wage of R25.42.
“This is not a living wage, but a foundation from which we will now seek to raise the minimum wage to the level of a living wage. Whilst we applaud these achievements, we need to do better to raise compliance levels to 100%,” he said.
Twala said the Nedlac community during the Covid pandemic had ensured that over R64 billion was released from the Unemployment Insurance Fund to help 5.7 million workers care for their families and the mass roll-out of the vaccination campaign that reached over 60% of society, in particular the most vulnerable.
“That is a social compact in action,” Twala said.
“Last Friday we welcomed the coming into effect of the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Act extending cover to over 900 000 domestic workers and increasing protections for all workers as well as the Employment Equity Amendment Act requiring companies doing business with the state to be in compliance with the Employment Equity and the National Minimum Wage Acts,” he said.
Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said at the opening of the summit that progress had nevertheless been too slow at Nedlac in the area of labour market reform.
He said that it early 2021, after business, labour and government had tabled their proposals for labour law reform, he had hoped that within six or eight months Nedlac would have reached an agreement on a number of changes that would improve the efficiency of the labour market without disturbing worker rights.
Some of the amendments proposed by the parties included improving the functioning of the Labour Court and collective bargaining, which would ensure that, in practice, the rights of workers were realised.
“However, the process is ongoing... I hope you continue to make progress,” he said.
Deliberations should also include considering extending the rights of workers in non-standard employment relations, for example gig economy workers and situations of remote work in the advent of the changing world of work.