/ 29 May 1998

Threats to job summit

Sechaba ka’Nkosi

The much-awaited Presidential Jobs Summit between the government, business and labour hangs in the balance following reports that senior Cabinet ministers tasked with formulating government proposals are deeply divided.

The divisions are believed to be the reason why the government has been unable to table its proposals, more than two years after the summit was first mooted by President Nelson Mandela as the government’s highest priority.

Some ministries have failed to produce draft proposals on their role in job creation – a year after an inter- ministerial committee was appointed by the Cabinet to facilitate a common proposal on job creation.

In the past few weeks the differences have escalated and Minister of Labour Tito Mboweni has angrily sent back some of the proposals to ministries because he believed they were incomplete.

Sources cite a power struggle between Mboweni’s ministry and Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel over the control of the inter- ministerial committee as one of the reasons for the government’s delay in tabling its position for the summit.

The labour ministry’s frustrations stem from finance’s refusal to accept that its status should be equal to the four other ministries represented in the committee. Finance argues that its ministry will ultimately take responsibility for the fiscal feasibi- lity of the government proposals.

Adding to the pressure on the government are accusations from organised labour, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in particular, that Mboweni and the government are not moving fast enough to convene the summit, while union members are losing thousands of jobs daily.

Labour’s proposal puts a moratorium on retrenchments in both the private and public sectors as a key condition for participation in the summit.

Government technocrats this week played down the extent of the tensions, arguing that it is natural in a process of policy formulation to have differences.

Said labour Director General Sipho Pityana: “It is a bit premature to say the differences are irreconcilable because we haven’t even started with negotiations among ourselves. What we are doing is still looking at proposals from various ministries.”

Yet sources say a crucial meeting of the committee last weekend ended in a showdown between Mboweni and other ministries, instead of bridging the gap between them. This meeting included MECs for finance and economic affairs from all nine provinces.

The government has failed to meet several deadlines set up by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to submit its proposal. Two weeks ago Mboweni said the government would submit its proposal this week and the summit would be held in July.

However, Nedlac constituencies believe this is too ambitious.