Defending workers’ rights this Sharpeville Day

Campaign Press Statement, 19 March 2018

WHO ARE WE?

The #ScrapTheNewLabourLaws Campaign is a coalition of progressive pro-working class movements who are committed to achieving equality and justice for workers and their families. We have come together to unite our efforts to stop this government from taking away our hard won right to strike.

The campaign to Scrap the New Labour Laws has adopted Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki as our iconic representative of the struggle for a just and living wage that erupted in Marikana in 2012, and which we see as a struggle we’re continuing. The campaign is made up of over twenty unions, mostly affiliated to SAFTU, and allied NGOs and community-based organisations. This is a campaign independent of any political party affiliation. We note that some political parties have stated their opposition to the labour bills. We welcome any action against the bills being passed, but must insist that leadership of the campaign comes from our working class constituencies and not from political parties.

We want to thank SAFTU for demonstrating its support for this campaign. SAFTU is one of the organizations which is supporting us in this initiative, together with other organizations.

BACKGROUND TO HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

The 21st of March is the day that we remember the Sharpeville Massacre. On 21 March, 1960 thousands of working class men and women defied the Apartheid government, by marching against pass laws in Sharpeville. The brutal apartheid police responded by opening fire killing 69 protestors, and wounding countless others.

On Wednesday this week, we will be defending the right to strike with the solemnity that remembering the martyrs and survivors of 1960 requires. Amendments to the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment, are forcing workers’ organisations into a defensive struggle to put a stop to these threatened changes. Workers and their families paid the ultimate price in the war against apartheid. They laid down their lives in the hope of a better future for their children. Now this government wants to take away this hard won right.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s dawn wherein mining is to feature as a ‘sunrise’ industry is no more than the warmed up leftovers of failed, earlier attempts to make South Africa’s labour market more flexible and more attractive to investment. A compulsory secret ballot of union members to decide on strike action is one such aspect of the National Development Plan that is being given another go after being defeated in 2013. Unions accordingly would have to change their constitutions to enable such balloting of its members, a statutory intrusion on their independence. An advisory arbitration panel is another constraint that unions will have to subject themselves to. Employers will be able to call for this arbitration, even if they have failed themselves to address workers’ demands. Decisions of the arbitration panel will be imposed on striking workers by the CCMA head of the panel, whether they agree or not. Then there are picketing rules that aim to weaken the effectiveness of pickets, to move them far from the business location.

WE REJECT THE NEW LABOUR LAWS

We reject the proposed changes to the Labour Relations Act (LRA), the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and the introduction of the National Minimum Wage Bill. These labour law amendments are packaged as being progressive. International experience of a NMW shows that it can reduce inequality and help poor households out of desperate poverty. The NMW as it’s been drafted in the bill, however, has been gutted of any such promise. It is an hourly rate of R20 for workdays that can be as short as 4 hours. Not a monthly figure of R3,500 as was bandied about when Ramaphosa made the announcement. At best, it is a standard for piece jobs and is definitely no benchmark for a living wage. If that is not low enough, the NMW allows for bosses to apply to be exempted from paying the legislated minimum. The NMW moreover, will supersede sectoral determined minimums that in some sectors are much better than what the NMW proposes.

Together, these amendments present a coordinated attack on workers. The only reasonable response is a co-ordinated counter-attack.

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

The Labour portfolio committee in parliament had a meeting on the 14th of March. They claim that NUMSA, GIWUSA, SAFTU and CWAO have not made submissions to them on the changes. We want to place it on record that we have been involved in this process since the Department of Labour opened up for submissions last year. Hundreds of groups made submissions to the department on this and they were advised that parliament would consider their submissions. We are surprised to hear that they were supposed to engage in a separate submission process to parliament. We view this as a deliberate attempt by the state to side-line working class organisations who are opposed to these labour laws from engaging in this process and we condemn them in the strongest terms possible.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

The #ScrapTheNewLabourLaws Campaign has resolved to defend workers and their families against this unrelenting attack. We were not consulted when these laws were created and yet these changes will affect every worker in South Africa. These decisions were taken at NEDLAC by the leadership of trade union federations COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU, who sold out their members and the working class to the highest bidder, who is white monopoly capital, and their rented stooge Cyril Ramaphosa. We will not sit idly by and allow the ANC government to take away the only power we have to negotiate improved conditions for our families. We will embark on rolling mass action to defend our rights. We are also consulting lawyers to finalize a strategy to take this matter to court.

On Wednesday we are marching to remind this government that Workers’ rights are human rights! Details are as follows:

Human Rights Day Johannesburg, Wednesday 21 March

Start: Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, 10am
Via Gauteng legislature
Ends: Department of Labour, Braamfontein, 1pm

 

SECTION 77 CERTIFICATE

A Section 77 certificate has been granted to SAFTU, to go on a general strike on the 25th April to defend workers rights. We welcome SAFTU’s decision to use this certificate to mobilize the working class to go on strike. We urge all workers and their families to join us in defending our hard won right to strike, as it will be a protected strike.

Names of organisations involved in the campaign

  1. South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU)
  2. National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA)
  3. United Front
  4. Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO)
  5. Workers’ World Media Productions
  6. WASP
  7. Gauteng Community Health workers Forum,
  8. International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG)
  9. South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA)
  10. General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA)
  11. Keep Left
  12. Khanya College
  13. Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR)
  14. Khulumani Support Group,
  15. Makause Community Development Forum (MACODEFO)
  16. Maokene Advice & Resource Centre
  17. National Union of Care Workers of South Africa (NUCWOSA)
  18. Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA)
  19. Right2Know
  20. Socio-Economic Rights Institute
  21. Simunye Workers Forum
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