The ANC’s biggest alliance partner – trade union federation Cosatu – has released its wish list for President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address, asking the government to pump more money into infrastructure development programmes, find an immediate solution to the country’s electricity problems and implement a national minimum wage.
Zuma is set to deliver his eighth State of the Nation address on Thursday evening to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
Cosatu says that although the federation appreciates that the global economy is not recovering quickly enough to help South Africa address the challenges of unemployment, and poverty in particular, the government can do more to stimulate economic growth and create jobs.
“This, among others, requires the government to spend and invest more, particularly in the infrastructure development programme and in capacitating the public service and all state institutions,” according to Cosatu.
The federation does acknowledge however, that this expectation “runs counter to the current fiscal stance taken by the treasury, which is one of austerity or cutbacks in real terms”.
Last week the Mail & Guardian reported that the presidential infrastructure co-ordinating commission has raised concerns about delays and poor planning that result in “cost overruns, which pushes up the overall funding needs of infrastructure”.
The government is said to be working against the clock to find money to help power utility Eskom fund its infrastructure development and maintenance programme, amid power cuts that threaten the economy.
Cosatu is also worried that despite Zuma committing the government to “respond decisively” to the country’s energy constraints, rolling electricity blackouts have become the norm rather than the exception.
“This is a matter of grave concern to Cosatu because load-shedding has the potential to result in job losses. The president should reassure the nation that the assets of Eskom will not be sold to the highest bidder as an option to get more funding for Eskom.”
Cosatu also wants to know why, in the context of the power crisis, aluminium smelters are allowed to consume “massive amounts of electricity at taxpayers’ expense without adding any significant value to the economy. The government urgently needs to look at how to close the remaining smelters down.”
National minimum wage
The federation said the president should provide a strategy to expand the renewable energy sector, outlining how to develop social forms of ownership, create jobs and give the working class more access to energy.
Cosatu also reminded Zuma of the commitment he made in last year’s State of the Nation address to investigate the possibility of a national minimum wage to help reduce income inequality.
Although it acknowledged that some meetings have taken place regarding this promise, Cosatu now wants Zuma to reassure South Africans that the minimum wage will be implemented “before the end of 2015”.
Cosatu has proposed a monthly minimum wage of R4 500, to move away from percentage-based increases and close wage gaps inherited from the colonial and apartheid eras.
Several Cosatu leaders serve on the ANC’s national executive committee, but it is unclear whether the federation’s influence carries much sway in the party and in Zuma’s government.