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SAFTU demands proper consultation with workers on new labour laws

The South African Federation of Trade Unions joins the growing chorus of people demanding that Parliament gives more time to debate the Minimum Wage Bill and amendments to the labour laws, and to properly consult those most affected – South Africa’s workers.

On Monday 26 March Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant is scheduled to brief the media; SAFTU demands that she makes clear that the debate is to be reopened and that she will welcome more submissions.

These laws will have such a devastating impact on the lives of workers, particularly the most vulnerable, and fundamentally undermine their constitutional rights, that they must not be rushed through Parliament without the fullest possible consultation with all organisations concerned.

The federation has already written to MPs, requesting them to  scrap these Labour Bills and send them back to Nedlac, but a Nedlac that will not lock out important constituencies such as SAFTU, and urging the portfolio committee to allow SAFTU and others to make oral and written submissions so that we can expose our MPs to the real meaning of this attack on hard-won worker rights of workers.

SAFTU will be making a submission to justify our view that these bills represent the entrenchment of a poverty-level minimum wage and an assault on the constitutionally guaranteed right to strike and to bargain collectively.

These rights are enshrined in the Bill of Rights and these amendments would upset the delicate balance that was struck between workers’ and employers’ rights is in the constitution. These Bills represent the most frontal attack on workers since the dawn of democracy.

Parliament’s labour portfolio committee has already dropped its previous attempt to get the draft laws approved in the House next week so that the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) could approve the draft laws after parliamentarians return form recess in the second half of April in time for implementation on 1 May.

Now both the DA and EFF have demanded more time for discussion and an unnamed source is quoted in Business Day saying the it “would be madness if the portfolio committee did not allocate more time for the consideration of public submissions”.

These parties have very different views on the legislation but there is an emerging consensus that more time for discussion is vital before these laws are passed.

Even COSATU, whose leaders scandalously approved these laws in Nedlac, have now belatedly expressed concern that a rushed-through national minimum wage would backfire. Clearly their own members are waking up to the dire consequences of their leaders’ sell out at Nedlac.

As SAFTU said in its letter to MPs: “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, its affiliates and many community groups have already marched to the Department of Labour in Johannesburg and will be marching to Parliament on 12 April. Then, on 25 April it will call a general strike, with mass rallies all over the country. The workers of South Africa demand:

  1. Scrap the amendments on strike ballots, picketing rules, longer conciliation and compulsory arbitration.
  2. Restore the right of workers to strike over things like unfair dismissal.
  3. Bosses must not be able to use scab labour/magundwane during protected strikes.
  4. Unions must organise the majority of workers in a sector before bargaining council agreements can be extended to non-unionised workers in the sector.
  5. A national monthly minimum wage decided by workers themselves.
  6. The Minister of Labour must still be authorised to make sectoral determinations.
  7. New sectoral determinations for workers who are not presently covered.
  8. Enforcement of minimum wages must be the job of the Department of Labour, with many more trained inspectors, more powers to inspectors to force bosses to implement the minimum wage and monitoring work of inspectors.
  9. Labour inspectors must consult with workers before workplace inspections.
  10. Scrap the labour bills.