Halt lay-offs, unions demand
Durban - UNIONS say retrenchments should be halted as the country grapples with the social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as the second wave continues to devastate the country.
This comes after harsher restrictions were implemented due to a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases, further impacting various sectors of the economy.
Last week the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) called for a moratorium on all retrenchments.
Fedusa general secretary Riefdah Ajam said the federation believed that all possible avenues must be considered instead of continuously using workers as scapegoats.
Ajam said Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s Budget speech in February is not expected to bring about any joy in light of last year’s outlook.
“The SA Reserve Bank needs to apply the same amount of conviction in 2021 to continue to catalyse the soft landing, stability and liquidity to assist workers entrapped in debt due to the lockdown,” she said.
Trade union UASA, an affiliate of Fedusa, fully supported the call.
UASA spokesperson Stanford Mazhindu, said the union was concerned about the effect the ongoing pandemic would have on the tourism, personal care, entertainment and hospitality sectors.
“These sectors are still reeling after level 4 and 5 (of the lockdown), and concerned about further poverty and hardship it will bring to desperate unemployed and poor workers,” said Mazhindu.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said it supported the call to suspend retrenchments because the government had so far failed to present a coherent plan to save or create jobs.
Cosatu national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said massive retrenchments were affecting all sectors of the economy.
The union believed that retrenchments needed to be made a matter for negotiation rather than consultation, he said.
“We acknowledge that changing Section 189 will not solve South Africa’s unemployment problems because this is an economic problem, but the fact is that dismissal for operational reasons is far too easy,” said Pamla.
Employers failed to fully canvass the possible alternatives to job losses, he said, and they took little, if any, responsibility for the social costs associated with the dismissals.
“Employed workers must, however, bear the brunt of stretching their meagre wages to cover more and more unemployed dependants,” he said.
Sometimes the retrenchments were purely motivated by profits rather than saving an ailing business, he said.
The United National Transport Union (UNTU) said the pandemic had resulted in a jobs bloodbath in South Africa and it supported Fedusa’s call as an affiliate.
UNTU spokesperson Sonja Carstens said the union included a no retrenchments for three years clause (2023) in the multi-term wage agreement it signed with Prasa in 2020.
“UNTU will demand the same clause from Transnet when wage negotiations for 2021 start,” she said.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) national spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said the union had always been against the retrenchment of workers during Covid-19.
The situation the country was facing was not caused by workers and they should not have to suffer, he said.
“If companies want to retrench, they must start with the executives and not only focus on workers.”