Unions express fear over R100bn Durban port expansion project
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DURBAN - ORGANISED labour is threatening to pull out all the stops to resist the government’s move to partner with the private sector in the R100 billion Durban port expansion project.
They fear that such a partnership could lead to job loses.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who visited the Port of Durban yesterday in what he described as a consultative visit and inspection of the port development process, confirmed that a public-private partnership had been agreed upon.
The Mercury has recently reported on the port master plan and that it would be facilitated through public-private partnership deals, as the state-owned company was in the red.
As Cosatu and its affiliate, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) cried foul over the high-powered visit, workers picketed on the doorstep of the venue in which Ramaphosa was engaged in a meeting that lasted nearly four hours.
Ramaphosa was joined by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda and Transnet chief executive Portia Derby.
The unions said there was something fishy about the discussions, citing the fact that they had not been consulted – neither about the meeting nor the plan to develop the port through bringing the business sector into the fold.
In a media briefing, Ramaphosa said the state was yet to inform the unions about the partnership initiative.
“It is not consultation when you engage us after having made the announcement that you will involve the private sector. In this case, you are simply ’telling us’ about what you have undertaken to do either way,” said Cosatu provincial secretary Edwin Mkhize.
“The real agenda now is coming out that it is about taking the port to the hands of private business.
“Currently the port authority has close to 100 licences, and about 16 of those are under Transnet, the rest are in the hands of private businesses.
“Now they want to take the very little remaining away from the hands of the public.
“KZN, in particular, is going to lose a number of jobs. We know the interest of the private sector is simply to make profits.
“What is also of grave concern is that the majority of the companies that hold the licences are not even black-owned.
“We will mobilise our forces to make sure that no private players are involved. They kept us out of the engagements, yet labour is the most critical stakeholder in any workplace. This is an issue that we are going to fight with our bare hands to make sure the neoliberalism agenda is not allowed to take place in the port,” Mkhize said.
Satawu general secretary Jack Mazibuko said the union was surprised to hear about the partnership plans since Transnet management had always assured the union that there would be no private sector involvement in any of the entities of the state company.
“It is clear the company has colluded with the government to privatise,” he said. “We were alarmed when we heard through the media that (Mbalula and Gordhan) would be here with the president engaging stakeholders about privatisation.
“Our concern is that in most such cases, workers lose jobs. An example is Telkom, which had 60000 employees but after it was privatised, it was left with 20 000 jobs. As we speak, 40 000 workers were laid off,” said Mazibuko.
He added that it was common knowledge that private partners would always want to cut the number of jobs to expand profit margins.
“We want this process stopped. After this we will meet with management once more, meet with relevant ministers including the president to formally voice our opposition,” said Mazibuko.
Ramaphosa justified the private partnership move as a much-needed initiative that would bolster efficiencies.
“We are not privatising Transnet, (but) we are going to be proceeding with what we have already said, that a number of other investments are so big that they require partners to be brought on board,” he said.
“We need to draw a great benefit from the private sector that can bring in money and technology.
“The way Transnet is being strengthened now, we need partners to work with.
“Workers need not fear for their jobs. If anything, it will just be shifting from one division here to the other,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa, whose visit had included meetings with several local businesses, said the development master plan would require R100bn to complete by 2032, adding that it would “create 180 000 jobs in the intervening period”.
Describing it as a national asset, he said the Durban port needed to be fully functional because it was the most important port in the economic architecture of the city, the province and the country.