In a press conference ahead of the national strike on April 25, general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), Zwelinzima Vavi, called the national minimum wage and new amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) a “full frontal attack” on workers’ rights.
“We are dealing with a fight back from the capitalist class. The amendments are a political response the scale of the strike action at Marikana,” Vavi said. “They never want to see workers embarking on such a militant struggle ever again.”
Saftu with its affiliates, is embarking on a protected strike as part of the #ScrapNewLabourLaws campaign to call on the government to rectify labour law amendments which it says will limit workers’ ability to earn a living wage, as well as infringe on their right to strike.
The minimum wage was initially supposed to be introduced on May 1. However, this has been delayed.
The national minimum wage will mean that most workers will earn R20/hour for most workers, and farmworkers and domestic workers will earn R18/hour and R15/hour respectively.
“This national minimum wage would mean that a worker would have to work all day to afford a burger from McDonalds,” Vavi said, in a reference to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s holdings in the fast-food chain.The federation, its affiliates and other members of the campaign — including the Simunye Workers’ Forum and the Casual Workers’ Advice Office — are also challenging amendments to the Labour Relations Act, which will see employers having increased powers to stop a protected strike by being enabled to raise a complaint in the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration that a strike is running for too long or it is negatively impacting the company.
The acting national spokesperson for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, said that this would mean, for example, that the current bus strike could be unilaterally stopped by the minister of labour — without consulting workers or the unions — if a law like this were to be instituted.
“If the labour laws were in place, there would be no bus strike,” said Hlubi-Majola.The new labour bill will also require unions to only declare a strike if there has been a secret ballot vote. The process could possibly be onerous, as it may require the entire union to vote — which, Vavi says, would be nearly impossible for unions like Numsa to carry out.
Employers will also be able to raise complaints if the secret ballot process is irregular, further impeding access to a protected strike.
On the secret ballot, Hlubi-Majola said that while this process might already be outlined in union constitutions, it has never been imposed by the state.
“It will effectively undermine our democratic processes,” she said.
Vavi said that the new laws would effectively mean the death of trade unionism.
The Saftu general secretary notes that the federation is calling on all political parties, labour federations and unions to participate in the strike, which will be protected under section 77 of the LRA.
He said that the divisions between Saftu and Cosatu should not affect the competing federation’s participation in the strike.
“We wrote a special letter to Cosatu to appeal to theme to forget all divisions and join hands against the new labour bills. They did not respond,” he said.
The marches — set to take place in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Polokwane and Durban — will all start at 10am on April 25.