Labour unions scramble to save jobs amid the Covid-19 outbreak in SA
Johannesburg - On Friday, Workers’ Day was commemorated amid the Covid-19 outbreak which has threatened millions of jobs and an economic depression, but unions and labour federations said they are engaging with the government and other stakeholders to save jobs.
According to the projection by the National Treasury, South Africa could lose up to 7 million jobs and see unemployment surging up from 29.1% to 50%. It projected the economy to contract by 6.4%.
This week, S&P Global ratings downgraded South Africa further into junk status, citing the effect of Covid-19 pandemic on the economy and heightened concerns about the long-term sustainability of the country’s debt. However, Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the union was negotiating at Nedlac to set conditions for any assistance in order to save jobs.
“We came up with the idea of using UIF to assist employers to pay workers and minimise retrenchments,” said Pamla. On April 21, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a R500 billion social and economic stimulus package aimed at keeping the economy going during the Covid-19 pandemic. The package was budgeted to save jobs, help companies that struggle to pay workers and operate, as well as help those in need. Giving details of the government stimulus package last week, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said restaurants and other businesses should be compelled to ensure at least half of their staff were South Africans, and this was supported by Cosatu.
“We support the sentiment of the minister and we expect him to work with other Cabinet colleagues to ensure that this is enforced. It is a myth that foreigners are the only ones that are hardworking. South Africa was built by local workers and no one complained that they were lazy,” said Pamla, adding that South African employers suffer from apartheid legacy where they had glorified slaves at their disposal.
“If these companies are going to ask for help then they need to comply or they can go and request help where they plan to create jobs.”
Cash-strapped SAA has also gone under with its thousands of jobs. In March, SAA issued a notice to 4700 of its workers that it intended to begin consulting on retrenchments. The airlines promised to preserve as many jobs as possible, but cautioned that the outlook for its operations had dimmed further following Covid-19 and its impact on international travel.
National Union of Metalworkers of SA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the union wanted to assure workers and its members that it will spare no moment in furthering their interests and addressing their fears under the current difficult and overwhelming conditions. Hlubi-Majola said the union had also met with Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan and raised the fact that it was fully committed to ensuring that both SAA and SA Express (which was placed on provision liquidation) were restructured.
“In this regard, government should consider the capitalisation of both institutions if we are to get out of the crisis.” South African Transport and Allied Workers Union general secretary Jack Mazibuko said the union was talking with Gordhan and SAA business rescue practitioners to consider implementing new prescriptions for the crisis at hand.
“It is indisputable that the economy in general is in a state of crisis which suggests a radical shift not only in policy direction but productive and social relations.
“We are currently forming new work relations with academics, researchers and activists for the purpose of critically diagnosing the general crisis and making recommendations to address them,” he said.
On April 16, the government allowed the mining sector to operate, but at 50% production capacity and there are fears that there could be job cuts in this sector.
National Union of Mineworkers president Joseph Montisetse said his union has received threats of job losses in Kangara, which operates in KZN and Mpumalanga.
“We also received a threat from VMR which has operations in the North West province in Orkney. All these companies served us with section 189, and we had since referred the matter to the Department of Mineral Resources to stop this process since we are still in lockdown, but to be frank, we will demand full implementation of the ten point plan that we signed with the DMR in 2015.”
But again on Friday, the government eased the coronavirus lockdown regulations by downgrading restrictions from level 5 to level 4, which will see about 1.5 million people returning to work as key sectors of the economy, including mining.