Unions rise against national minimum wage and new strike action draft laws

In what has become the most significant draft changes to the Labour Relations Act since 1995, negotiations have taken place for stricter measures and procedures to be in place, which could curtail strike action. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

In what has become the most significant draft changes to the Labour Relations Act since 1995, negotiations have taken place for stricter measures and procedures to be in place, which could curtail strike action. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa (Numsa) will march to Parliament on Thursday to object to the proposed national minimum wage and possible labour law amendments.

Saftu has rejected the proposed changes as an “attack on workers”. The proposed national minimum wage would see most workers earning R20 per hour. In a statement on Wednesday, Numsa supported Saftu’s call for a protest, saying: “The strike is to demonstrate our collective anger at the state for their unrelenting attack on workers”.

In what has become the most significant draft changes to the Labour Relations Act since 1995, negotiations have taken place for stricter measures and procedures to be in place, which could curtail strike action.

Some of the proposed changes include that unions would have to decide on a strike through secret ballot, which critics argue interfere with unions’ own processes in deciding on strike action.

Another proposed amendment is that a senior member from the CCMA becomes involved in an arbitration process, called the advisory arbitration panel. The panel can be called to convene by employers, and could result in decisions being reached without much input from workers. The decisions by the panel are binding unless they are appealed.

The mandatory period before a strike can commence when there is a dispute will also be increased from 30 days to 35 days. These changes were agreed on to minimise violent protest, but Saftu argues that it will discourage strike action altogether.

According to Saftu, the National Economic Development Council (Nedlac) ― which provides a platform for labour and business to engage and negotiate on policy changes before it is viewed by Parliament ― agreed to the changes “behind workers’ backs”.

“These Bills are a product of an undemocratic process. They were agreed to behind workers’ backs at Nedlac, a forum where Saftu, which is the second largest federation that now represents 30 unions with nearly 800 000 workers, remains locked out. There was no consultation with workers who are going to be negatively affected by these draconian bills,” Saftu said in a statement.

Saftu was the first to submit an objection to the national minimum wage in Parliament, which was meant to be implemented on May 1, but has since been postponed.

The union is also demanding that the Cape water crisis be properly managed after tariff hikes, water managing devices and fixed costs on water were introduced to increase consumer costs for water.

The march has been supported by a number of local Cape organizations including Stop the City of Cape Town and the Water Crisis Coalition, which both oppose the City’s management of the drought response. The Water Crisis Coalition called the City’s proposed budget “anti poor” and said it amounts to a “privatisation of water”.

Marchers will gather at Keizergracht Street in District Six from 10am before making way to Parliament. Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is expected to lead the protest. 

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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