Cosatu: Unemployment a challenge in 2005

The levels of unemployment in South Africa continued to be one of the biggest challenges of 2005, together with the growth of casualisation and a reduction in the quality of jobs, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says.

In an interview with I-Net Bridge, Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said one of the underlying issues in 2005 was the huge wage gap between the poorest workers and top South African company directors—a problem that had been inherited from the apartheid era.

“The difference in the income of directors and ordinary workers in South Africa is one of the highest in the world and this remained the case in 2005,” Craven pointed out.

He asserted that the unions remained determined to raise the level of income of the poorest workers in the country.

Craven said that the income gap, unemployment, casualisation and a reduction in the quality of jobs were among the reasons for a number of strikes in 2005.

“Strikes are always our last resort, there were a number of salary negotiations settled without strikes. In some instances employers had to see how determined workers were before they came with realistic offers—and this was unfortunate,” he said.

Craven argued that inflation linked wage increases were not the answer for all the workers in the country.

“If you come up with inflation linked wages, this has to filter through to the lowest earning workers. We don’t buy this argument that workers always demand above inflation increases—because the same people who advance this argument give themselves way above inflation increases.”

In 2005 South Africa experienced strikes in the mining, steel and engineering, glass, airport baggage handling, retail, electrical and other small sectors.

Man-days lost to strikes and other forms of work stoppages more than doubled to 2,2-million days during the first nine months of 2005 from 1,05-million during the same period in 2004, the South African Reserve Bank’s latest quarterly bulletin shows.

Industrial action was largely related to wage disputes, which accounted for 88,7% of the number of man-days lost during the first three quarters of 2005, it said.

The most recently published Labour Force Survey released by Stats SA indicates that the level of overall employment in the South African economy rose virtually uninterruptedly from 11,2-million in September 2001 to 11,9-million in March 2005.

These revised statistics incorporate the population estimates released in February 2005 and were also benchmarked to the Census 2001 results in order to establish a consistently estimated time series of labour market data.

The SARB said the Stats SA estimates furthermore indicated that the number of unemployed decreased from 5,1-million in March 2003 to 4,3-million in March 2005.

The estimated unemployment rate accordingly was reduced to 26,5% in March 2005 from 31,2% in March 2003.

The mainly white trade union Solidarity has argued that the main reason the country experienced strikes was unwillingness on the part of employers to engage unions in good faith during wage negotiations.

“We are constantly working on improving relations with employers to avoid strikes and this has been a challenge in 2005,” said Solidarity spokesperson Jaco Kleynhans.

Kleynhans said trade unions always demand double figures when they start wage negotiations with employers as a strategy to get a better offer.

“If you start at a lower base then employers will always push for an even lower increase.”

He added that 2005 strikes were a result of lack of commitment from employers. - I-Net Bridge

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