/ 19 February 2010

Zuma and Cosatu: The end of the affair

The Zuma government has not delivered on its promises to trade unions and Cosatu should have refrained from supporting ‘individuals” in the ANC’s 2007 national conference in Polokwane, union leaders said this week.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary Frans Baleni told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that the State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma and the budget speech by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan showed that the union federation is not harvesting the fruits of its support for Zuma.

He said Cosatu should have focused on policies rather than personalities, implying that the trade union federation should not have so publicly thrown its weight behind Zuma in the run-up to Polokwane.

‘We should have focused on policy rather than individuals. If we were more focused on policy we would have had better results.”

Baleni said there is ‘anger from our structures” about the way the ANC treats Cosatu once elections are over. ‘Before the elections we are taken seriously, but after the elections we are not taken seriously any more.

‘If the budget signals no real change from the past, it deepens the perception that we are [being] taken for a ride.”

‘Real change was promised’
He said Cosatu will take the ANC to task about its concerns regarding the budget, but admitted that mere talking has limited success. ‘Real change was promised post-Polokwane. We can’t just get promises all the time; we want to see it. Now there is a lot more engagement with the ANC, but you can’t just talk. At some point something must be done.”

Cosatu will take a franker stance against the ANC in future, Baleni said. ‘We will tell them there is a blind spot and that we want to see results.”

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told the M&G the federation was unhappy about the proposals in the budget that moot a move towards a two-tier labour market, calling it a ‘recipe for disaster”.

The Black Management Forum president and director general in government’s labour department, Jimmy Manyi, was in the dark about how the youth employment scheme would work.

‘We heard this for the first time when the finance minister delivered his budget speech this week. I don’t know what he meant. The big drive for the department of labour is to focus on decent work. Anything short of that [will not work]. The creativity that he [Gordhan] spoke about needs to be interrogated, in line with the concept of decent work,” said Manyi.

In 2005 then-deputy finance minister Jabu Moleketi proposed a dual labour market system for young people, small businesses and certain labour-intensive industries to address the high unemployment rate, but this was rejected by the ANC during the party’s national general council
that year.

The idea was also given the thumbs-down during the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007.

Dlamini said although Cosatu would welcome the absorption of more youth into the labour market, it
was wrong to subject them to lower labour standards.

No room for salary increases
‘For the minister to say workers should not enjoy the same labour standards, it means workers would be subjected to different labour rights.

‘We all agreed on decent jobs. This does not go to that. It actually addresses the plight of the youth, but the aim is to destroy them.

‘They will hate employment because the entry salary will be the same as those who are permanently employed, but there won’t be any room for them to negotiate salary increases. They [the government] say more than 800 000 youth would be employed, but this will mean less permanent and formal employees.”

He accused the ANC government of failing to consult Cosatu on the matter. ‘We only learned about it today [Wednesday]. We were shocked like everyone else.

‘We understand there was not supposed to be official consultation with us. We do not expect ministers to consult Cosatu. But in the alliance we have [an] understanding of what is supposed to happen.”

South African Communist Party deputy general secretary and Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin confirmed that the new budget proposals were also not discussed with the SACP, but said the SACP would ‘give the proposals [on job creation] a chance”.

‘We shouldn’t be protecting a small pocket of workers at the cost of a much larger group.”

He said the labour market is multitiered anyway because of the massive number of casualised workers and the small pocket of workers with decent jobs. ‘We have to be bold about getting people into work.”

The SACP is increasingly critical of the expanded public works programme, however, because it was designed as a way for people to ‘leapfrog” into the first economy — but the first economy was dysfunctional.

‘Therefore the debate about decent work versus work opportunities is also necessary,” Cronin said.