Johannesburg - Saftu’s national strike on Wednesday is more about the federation flexing its muscles and is unlikely to have an impact on the legislative process of amending labour laws.
This is the view of labour analysts who said the strike may increase awareness among workers about the labour amendments, but it’s doubtful that any impact will be seen in Parliament.
The federation is not happy with the amendments to labour laws that is currently underway in Parliament, which also include the introduction of a national minimum wage of R20 per hour.
Other amendments will see unions conducting secret balloting of members before going on strike.
The federation believes the R20 per hour for the minimum wage is an insult to workers and will not help to remove them from poverty.
Saftu’s strike coincides with the federation’s 1 year anniversary and is being led by its general secretary and former Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi.
Analysts said the Saftu strike was not just creating awareness of the amendments, but also an attempt to try and sell itself as a alternative federation for unions that are unhappy with Cosatu.
Labour analyst Momokgethi Molopyane said: “It (the strike) may not change the legislation but it will bring more attention to it. And of course, it makes Saftu the focus point which is critical if it is positioning itself as the alternative for workers. Right now, Cosatu's perceived invincibility means there’s a gap for a federation that is seen as being actively interested in workers issues”.
Labour consultant Tony Healy shared similar sentiments, but cautioned that Saftu only constitutes a small fraction of the country’s unionised labour force and most unionised members have agreed to the introduction of the minimum wage through process at the National Economic and Labour and Council (Nedlac).
“If you put Cosatu and Fedusa together, who have agreed to the amendments, then it means that three quarters of the South African unionised workforce agree with the amendments that Saftu is objecting,” said Healy.
The requirement for unions to conduct secret ballots before a strike, to decide whether the majority of members were in agreement, was not new and many unions already have this component in their constitutions.
“Their stated objections to the amendments are puzzling. The amendments do not at all interfere with the right to strike. All that it does, which most union constitutions already provide for, it says that if you are going to strike that workers must hold a secret ballot. That does not interfere with the right to strike,” said Healy.
Saftu has also been criticised by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who said Vavi had played a role in talks on national minimum wage when he was part of Cosatu.
“Unions such as Numsa were briefed about amendments. So now we are encouraging all unions to have that clause. Because when you talk about a strike, workers should decide if they want to strike and it should not be union leaders making the decisions,” said Oliphant.
Saftu’s issues at Nedlac:
The federation has also been claiming it has been excluded from joining Nedlac, where labour economic policy are discussed by the government, business and labour constituencies.
Oliphant says claims of exclusion are false and that it is in fact Saftu that delayed processes at Nedlac to consider their application.
“They are not being deliberately excluded from Nedlac. They have to follow the processes to apply and join Nedlac if they meet the threshold. It is unfortunate that they do not disclose the application process. Because according to Nedlac, they applied to join at the end of last year and were asked for the additional documents that were needed for constituencies to discuss the matter,” said Oliphant.
“In fact, the GS (Vavi) of Saftu was part of drafting process of how federations should apply in order to join Nedlac. Now he has to follow those processes that he helped create,” she said.
Healy agreed and said the federation has itself to blame for not being part of Nedlac and it is being opportunistic in pointing the finger at others.
“They are throwing stones at Nedlac’s window.They have themselves to blame for not following proper procedures timelessly in order to get a seat around the Nedlac table,” said Healy.