MINING and manufacturing companies retrenching workers were threatening stability, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi told hundreds of Congress of South African Trade Unions members in Cape Town taking part in the federation’s countrywide World Day march for Decent Work on Wednesday.
Thousands of people took to the streets around South Africa on Wednesday to protest for better working conditions and the end to controversial practices such as the use of labour brokers.
“Retrenchments are a declaration of war on the poor,” hammered Nxesi, who is also the deputy chairman of the South African Communist Party, adding that along with retrenchments, capitalism and labour brokers were threats to decent work conditions.
Asked why, as a minister he was marching with workers, Nxesi answered: “We, as the SACP and COSATU, will fight the struggles of our people inside and outside of Parliament, inside and outside of the boardrooms.”
Nxesi went on to stress the SACP’s demand to government, that a “multi-stakeholder mining indaba” be held urgently to tackle transformation in the troubled sector.
As Cosatu marchers in the Mother City headed to Parliament, about 2,000 Cosatu members, sporting the organisations red t-shirts, in Johannesburg began marching to the Telkom offices to demand that retrenchments be stopped.
Cosatu communications officer Norman Mampane called for the banning of labour brokers, saying that companies that used brokers needed to be exposed.
A group of men who work for the local municipality told ANA that there were many issues that they had with labour brokers and that was why they were attending the march.
“Today is International Day of Decent Work … we came to the march to confirm to the government and private sector that decent jobs need to be created for workers in South Africa,” said a Cosatu member who did not wish to be named.
The Durban city centre was brought to a halt as about 3,000 members of Cosatu marched to demand a better public transport system, no increases in value added tax, a minimum wage and a moratorium on retrenchments.
The marchers set off from Botha Gardens down Pixley ka Seme Street to the Durban city hall, where they handed over a memorandum to the KwaZulu-Natal economic development and tourism MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu.
Several carried posters and placards that read “Labour Brokers = Slavery” and “End Poverty, Job Losses and Inequality”.
Some vendors took the opportunity to sell fruit and drinks to the marchers as they proceeded down Pixley ka Seme Street in the scorching heat and continued to ply their trade in the city hall gardens as the memorandum that was handed to Mabuyakhulu was read out.
The demands in the memorandum were for the government to address the issue of public transport and for the government to reject any proposed increase in VAT. The union also demanded a moratorium on retrenchments while a solution was sought.
“Responding to economic pressures must not make employers to see workers as the first target (for cutting costs),” read the memorandum.
The union is also demanding a minimum wage, a repeal of a youth employment tax incentive and that the country’s electricity crisis be addressed.
In Rustenburg, about 1,000 members affiliated to Cosatu braved the scorching heat to take part in the march.
Dressed in trademark red, the marchers took to the streets of the platinum rich city to protest against job losses, to demand affordable public transport and the scrapping of e-tolls.
The chairperson of Cosatu in North West, Solly Lekhu said too many jobs were being shed in the mining sector.
“About 23 000 jobs have be lost in the mining sector. We came out and say no to that,” he said to a chorus of applause from the crowd.
The march came a day after the Royal Bafokeng Platinum announced the retrenchment of 174 workers at its Rasimone mine. Anglo American Platinum had cut 474 jobs in April, and in May Lonmin announced it would cut 3,500 jobs.
Eric Gcilitshana, the health and safety national secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said people retrenched should be paid 70 percent of their salary by the government, while they were being trained in other skills, while their previous employer should pay 25 percent.
He highlighted the plight of NUM shopstewards at Impala Platinum Mines, who had not been working since the violent wildcat strike in 2012.
The SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) in the North West province called for the nationalisation of mines.
Cosatu also again called for the Swartruggens Plaza toll fee to be drastically reduced.
“We are about to celebrate a victory of a fight we started four years ago. We thank the North West provincial government and the Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters for helping us,” said provincial Solly Phetoe.
Peters launched a campaigned to encourage people residing in jurisdiction of the toll gate to register for a discount of up to 75 percent.
Cosatu has waged a fight over the years calling for the R75 toll fee for a light vehicle to be reduced to R20.
Phetoe on Tuesday said Cosatu had accepted a proposal that the toll fee be reduced to R58 for the time being.
Hawkers took advantage of the scorching heat to make a profit.
“My business is going fine,” said Domingos Chirindza, selling bottled water to protesters.
“I have made enough profit and decide to reduce the price to R7 per 500ml bottle.”
In Cape Town, marchers voiced a wide range of reasons for worker and working class frustration. Twin sisters Natasha Cleophas and Vanessa Miggel said they were sick of arriving late for work because of public transport.
“The buses and trains are late everyday and then we lose our jobs,” said Cleophas.
Both sisters, who worked in the textile and clothing industries, said another frustration of theirs was decreased pay when returning from maternity leave.
“You leave getting paid 100 percent of your salary, and then you return getting paid 80%,” said Miggel.
An industry peer, Nuraan Cassiem, said government needed to adjust municipal rates according to income bracket.
“Our industry is the lowest paid [sic]yet we are expected to pay the same as higher earners,” said Cassiem.
She added that bosses chose to ignore the workers’ plight.
“When we’re late because of having to take two trains and two taxis, the boss says it’s not his job to get us to work on time,” she said.
“So, what else can we do but march?” – ANA