/ 6 July 2023

Cosatu ‘heartened’ by worker support for national stayaway

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Thousands of workers took to the streets of Johannesburg (pictured), Durban and Cape Town and others stayed home in support of Cosatu’s industrial action on Thursday. Photo: Supplied/Cosatu

Workers across the country downed tools in response to labour federation Cosatu’s national stayaway on Thursday, although turnout in some urban centres was lower than expected as workers weighed up the cost of losing a day’s wages.

But Cosatu parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks said the union was overall “quite pleasantly surprised” by workers’ support and the media focus on the industrial action to protest against the dire state of the economy, rising inflation and interest rates, broken infrastructure, crime and corruption.

Thousands of workers took to the streets in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban in support of the union’s demands on government and the private sector. These included a call to raise the social relief of distress grant to the food poverty line in the October medium term budget policy statement and to extend the Presidential Employment Stimulus, which is a response to the effect of the pandemic on jobs and livelihoods, to accommodate one million participants in October 2023 and two million by February 2024.

It also called for:

  • The implementation of pension reforms on 1 March 2024;
  • Unblocking delays in the rollout of the public infrastructure programme;
  • Intervention in the 36 municipalities routinely failing to pay employees;
  • The repeal of the Municipal Systems Amendment Act clause banning 350 000 municipal workers from holding office in a political party at any level;
  • Urgent intervention to rebuild and modernise Transnet and Metrorail;
  • Urgent intervention to prevent the collapse and liquidation of the South African Post Office;
  • The allocation of additional resources to ensure law enforcement authorities are sufficiently resourced to win the war against crime and corruption;
  • The allocation of further funds to the South African Revenue Service to tackle tax evasion and customs fraud; and
  • All public sector vacancies to be filled by December 2023.

Parks said the union was “heartened” by the turnout for the national protest, saying many workers had stayed away from work, even if they had not had the transport fare to attend picket lines.

“We have had quite a few positive reports of factory and public sector stayaways from across the country and we had quite a large turnout in most urban centres — Durban, Joburg, Cape Town — and even in smaller towns like Kuruman and Kimberley. We also had a pleasant surprise where workers who could not attend took part in lunchtime pickets and protests, which we had not factored in,” he said. “The main point was for the government to hear the grievances of workers and I think the national spotlight has been on them this week”

Parks also said that change doesn’t happen overnight and they are not expecting results tomorrow but if they see progress in a few months, they will keep pushing.

Cosatu’s provincial secretary for KwaZulu-Natal, Edwin Mkhize, said workers had “outreached expectations” with a turnout of about 3 000 workers who travelled into Durban’s city centre at their own cost. “It tells me the issues we are raising are very relevant to the challenges facing our members today.”

He said the union in KwaZulu-Natal was also calling for a ban on labour brokers that are allegedly syphoning off workers’ wages, the problem of municipal billing issues and alleged overcharging, and Transnet’s privatisation plans.

Cosatu’s Western Cape provincial secretary, Malvern de Bruyn, said “close to 2 000” workers had attended the protest march in the city.

“It was less than we expected — there was a service delivery protest on the N2 near Khayelitsha coming into Cape Town which prevented a lot of people from coming into the city. But I think the biggest challenge is that workers cannot afford to lose a day’s wages,” he said.

He added that the union would consider holding future protest marches in the province on a Saturday to make it easier for workers to participate.