Thuma mina: Unions unmoved by president’s challenge

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for South Africans to work together is not reverberating with the trade unions, which say they should not be made to pay for the rampant corruption of the recent past.

The tough economic climate, with both the public and private sectors pleading poverty, has not dampened unions’ above-inflation wage demands.

A three-year wage settlement of increases between 6% and 7%, including housing and other service benefits, was agreed on for public sector workers, although Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has said it exceeded the money made available for the compensation of employees in the 2018 budget and placed the government’s expenditure ceiling in jeopardy.

This week, power blackouts, caused by strikes, resumed as the financially strapped state-owned power utility Eskom and unions struggle to find common ground on the issue of bonuses, which Eskom says it cannot afford. This is the second time the country’s power supply has been affected by the wage negotiations, which have gone on for two months.

Wage talks in the gold mining sector resumed on Wednesday after unions rejected what they said was a low starting offer by the Minerals Council of South Africa. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) demanded entry-level wage increases of between 15% and 18.5% for surface, underground and skilled workers.

The council’s opening offer ranged from 5.5% to 6.5% for underground employees and 3% to 4.5% for miners and artisans and officials.

The council has said that 50% of the gold mines are unprofitable or just making it. South Africa has some of the oldest gold mining shafts in the world, which are deep, labour- intensive and expensive to mine.

Labour analyst Mamokgethi Molopyane said the state of the economy and the difficulties in the mining sector meant the above-inflation wage increases the unions were asking for were not affordable.

Economic growth has stagnated and gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 2.2% in the first quarter, putting the country on the brink of a technical recession. Eskom continues to face unrelenting financial constraints, made clear when the utility last week announced a R4.6-billion loss in its electricity-generating business.

Meanwhile, South Africans have been hit by the effects of record high fuel prices — R16.03 a litre for 95 octane unleaded petrol inland — and the 15% value-added tax (VAT)rate, which is meant in part to plug the shortfall in the government’s finances.

Regarding whether the unions should make sacrifices and adjust their demands to take in the economic realities and heed the spirit of Ramaphosa’s call, Molopyane said: “Sacrifices, like everything else, have to be contextualised and are relative to the person on the other side.”

The NUM’s Livhuwani Mammburu said the union was not willing to make sacrifices for fruitless expenditure and corruption at Eskom.

“Workers were not the ones who were involved in corruption. Workers were not the ones who spent R19-billion on fruitless expenditure,” Mammburu said.

Eskom has put forward two three-year wage options to the unions, the first being a 7% wage increases for three years, with a housing allowance, or 7.5% in 2018 and 7% in 2019 and 2020, with no housing allowance.

The unions have not responded to this offer because they are still locked in a dispute over the performance bonus, which they say should be paid to workers who have exceeded the minimum target required for a bonus.

“It’s an issue of principle that workers should not be expected to pay the cost of crimes committed by other people in an organisation like Eskom, which has led to the financial crisis it now faces,” said Patrick Craven, the spokesperson for the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu).

Craven said Saftu believed the “new dawn” had failed to materialise and, in fact, had “become a nightmare”.

“There’s tremendous anger among workers and that’s something the media doesn’t appreciate. They look at the sort of employers’ arguments, which is that workers have got to join everyone in paying the price.

“All the problems of unemployment and inequality are all getting worse since Ramaphosa took over. This is because he has adopted an economic policy that is unsustainable,” Craven said.

Tahir Maepa, deputy general manager of the Public Servants Association, which rejected the current wage agreement, said it did not offer workers a meaningful raise in the face of high tax and VAT increases. It was as though workers were being “punished twice”.

“On top of that, our money and pension money is being taken to bail out this corruption in the SOEs [state-owned enterprises] and yet we are told we don’t deserve to get a living wage,” Maepa said.

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Giuardian

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Tebogo Tshwane
Tebogo Tshwane

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust financial journalism trainee at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a general news intern at Eyewitness News and a current affairs show presenter at the Voice of Wits FM. Tshwane is passionate about socioeconomic issues and understanding how macroeconomic activities affect ordinary people. She holds a journalism honours degree from Wits University. 

Related stories


Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.

No way out for Thales in arms deal case, court...

The arms manufacturer has argued that there was no evidence to show that it was aware of hundreds of indirect payments to Jacob Zuma, but the court was not convinced.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…