SAFTU statement on wealth and poverty in South Africa

The South African Federation of Trade Unions has noted with anger reports that the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers is recommending 4% salary increments, backdated to April, for the highest-paid state officials.

If the increase is agreed, President Zuma’s salary will rise from from nearly R2.9m a year, to just under R3m a year, Ramaphosa’s from R2.7m to R2.8m. All 35 ministers will get R2.4m a year, and their deputies R2m.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces Chairperson Thandi Modise will each earn R2.8m, and Mmusi Maimane, as leader of the opposition and ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu are each set to earn R1.5m and premiers R2.2m.

MPs will get an bigger percentage increase of 4.5%, which will take their salary to nearly R1.1m. Mayors’ salaries are set to jump by R56 000 to R1.3m. And judges and kings are also all in line for rises.

Yet this news comes in the same week in which:

The cabinet approved the National Minimum Wage Bill which will condemn millions of workers to live in poverty on R20 and hour, or R3 500 a month;
Expanded Public Works Program (EPWP) participants learned that they are going to have to survive on R88 a day, and
Public servants are likely to be offered increases of no more than the rate of inflation which is in real terms no increase at all.

These items news encapsulate everything that is wrong with the way wealth is distributed in South Africa.

The political leaders who are responsible for the economic crisis – which has led to the highest level of unemployment for 14 years, to more than half the population living below the poverty line and to the creation of the most unequal society in the world – will continue to live in luxury, while the poorest South Africans and the workers who create the country’s wealth are forced to patriotically tighten their belts and pay the price for this crisis of which they are the victims, not the cause.

The Minimum Wage Bill, which is due to come into effect on 1 May 2018 adopts the proposal agreed in February by representatives of government, business, the community sector and, scandalously, two of the three labour federations represented at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

According to this, workers will receive a minimum of R20 per hour which translates into a monthly wage of about R3 500 for a 40-hour week, and about R3 900 for those who work 45 hours a week.

But not all workers will even be entitled to even that pitiful amount:

• the minimum wage for farm workers will be R18 per hour;
• the minimum wage for domestic workers will be R15 per hour; and
• the minimum wage for workers on an expanded public works programme wlll R11 per hour.

If all this goes through, the President will be earning 71 times more than the minimum level of R20 an hour on which the government claims people can survive.

What makes this news even more sickening is the flood of allegations that many of the people who will be receiving these increases have already been receiving far more than their official salaries, through their part in the looting of the state coffers through bribery, tender manipulation, mismanagement of state-owned enterprises and colluding with private business to rob the state of billions of rands.

And now the workers are the poor are being presented with the bill for these lost billions.

SAFTU is well aware that there are also many capitalists in the private sector who earn even more than those in government, some of whom are also implicated in the corruption and looting.

The report by Lord Peter Hain alleging the involvement of huge global companies like HSBC and Standard Chartered banks in the Gupta financial crimes, has added further evidence to the federation’s conviction that corruption is not confined to a few families, cronies and individuals but part of a global network of an inherently corrupt monopoly capitalist system.

SAFTU also condemns the Cabinet decision to also approve the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill and a Labour Relations Amendment Bill, which are supposed to strengthen collective bargaining, but which include potentially disastrous proposals for unions and workers:

An Accord on Collective Bargaining and Industrial Action under which all social partners commit to take the steps needed to prevent violence, intimidation and damage to property and to improve capacity to resolve disputes peacefully and expeditiously.

A Code of Good Practice on Collective Bargaining, Industrial Action and Picketing, which is intended to provide practical guidance on collective bargaining, the resolution of disputes of mutual interest and the resort to industrial action, and

An advisory arbitration measure to resolve strikes that are intractable, violent or may cause a local or national crisis.

These proposals may sound harmless but the thinking behind them is clearly to smuggle into law new ways to restrict the workers’ constitutional right to strike and picket when government and employers think these activities are not in the national interest.

SAFTU will fight to the end to defend the workers’ right to withdraw their labour. If we lose that right we are on the way to becoming slaves!

The federation also urges all public sector unions currently engaged in salary negotiations with the government to stand firm on their demand for a 12% increase and insist that their members will not become scapegoats for the government’s own failures.

The federation will also step up its fight for a living wage for all workers, and for an increased social wage, including a comprehensive system of social security, free education and an end to the two-tier delivery of excellent services to the rich and insulting, degrading, minimal services or even non-existent services to the poor.

As the Declaration of SAFTU’s founding congress resolved: “Our struggle is to end class exploitation, and to dismantle colonial and apartheid capitalism and land dispossession, through a programme to reclaim land and for a socialist-orientated society… The only way out of the crisis has to be through a mass movement of the working-class based on a program guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism for the nationalisation of the mineral and manufacturing monopolies, the banks and the land, in line with the aspiration expressed in the Freedom Charter

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