SAFTU demands justice for waste pickers

The South African Federation of Trade Unions has, from its launch, resolved to organize the unorganised and the army of workers ion the margins of the economy, who scrape together just enough to survive on from casual employment or piece jobs.

2 641 000 South Africans work in the informal sector, 16.7% of total employment in the country. They include the zama zama mine workers, taxi drivers (including ‘self-employed’ Uber drivers), car guards, street vendors, car washers, home workers and waste-pickers.

They are generally not members of trade unions and unprotected by labour laws. Trade unions in the past were often, rightly, accused of only serving the interests of permanently employed workers in secure jobs, and ignoring these informal workers, which has led to only 24% of the country’s total workforce being unioinised.

SAFTU is committed to organising this 76% who are unorganised and yet have the greatest need for unions because of their low pay, job insecurity and difficult working conditons.

Terry Bell, ‘Inside Labour’ columnist, in the City Press on 3 June 2018, has drawn attention to the waste-pickers – “the men and women who trundle through the streets on waste-collection days to rifle through bins, scavenging recyclables”.

They do hard and unhealthy work, at unsocial hours, with no proper equipment or protective clothing. They fall squarely into the category of informal workers, yet have become key players in both the plastics and paper industries and the global campaign to reduce the pollution of the environment by the dumping of rubbish.

The South African plastics industry recycled a record 2.15 billion plastic bottles in 2017. This set a post-consumer recycling rate of 65%, exceeding the industry target of 58% for the year, and creating 64 000 income-generating opportunities for waste pickers, collectors and recyclers.

It is the same story with paper recycling. South Africa successfully diverted 1.4 million tonnes of recyclable paper and paper packaging from landfill sites in 2016. This is equivalent to the weight of 280,000 adult African elephants or would cover 254 football fields. The annual paper recovery rate has sustained 2% year-on-year growth since 2012.

As Terry Bell points out: “…they (the waste-pickers) are the people who are the true ecowarriors of the throw-away age. And they are the harbingers of a system that can play a part in alleviating poverty, hunger and pollution… It is hard, dirty and often dangerous work, salvaging what amounts to riches cast out by a throw-away society.”

Yet they are exploited by ‘middlemen’ companies that buy salvaged refuse to sell on to large corporations. There are constant grumbles about the prices paid by an estimate “more than 200 buying companies, all of them owned by previously advantaged groups and individuals”.

But the workers are getting organised, through the formation the SA Waste-Pickers Association, which is calling for “cooperatives of workers, so we can benefit from our labour”.

SAFTU fully supports this demand for co-operatives but also calls for waste-pickers to be permanently employed by municipalities, one of whose core functions is waste disposal, which is precisely what waste-pickers are doing and what the municipalities should be doing.

They are saving the municipalities millions of rands yet receive nothing in return. Instead they should be employed withiin the councils’ waste management departments.

This call is linked to the demand by SAFTU and #Outsourcingmustfall for the reintegration of workers whose jobs have been outsourced by municipalities.

The campaign had a big success when Johannesburg‚ mayor Herman Mashaba, announced that the jobs of 4 000 security workers were to be insourced and that a similar process will be started for workers contracted to provide cleaning services.
He also decided to insource some of the former beneficiaries of the discredited Jozi@Work project which was a short-term, poverty pay ‘job opportunity’ scheme like the Expanded Pubic Works Programme (EPWP).

The campaign continues for many more outsourced jobs to be insourced by both Johannesburg and other municipalities, and it must now also address the waste-pickers’ plight of struggling survive despite the valuable work theydoin the economy and the fight against pollution.

Although they have never been employed by municipalities, they should have been. They should be permanently employed, on the same terms and conditions as other municipal workers and provided with the proper tools, equipment and protective clothing.

SAFTU demands that this should be part of its broader campaign for:
• All employers in the public service to employ all staff directly and provide medical aid and provident fund benefits;
• Increased wages to at least R10 000 a month;
• Equal pay for work of equal value;
• A ban on the use of labour brokers;
• Democratically elected workers’ representatives to sit on all the committees managing the insourcing process at every level of government;
• The scrapping of the expanded public works programmes, and community work programme

This will be just one of the many issues to be discussed at the upcoming Working Class Summit to discuss the deteriorating material conditions of the working class and all the assaults on their living standards.

SAFTU wants to build a network with grassroots organsiations to fight back against the neoliberal attacks by monopoly capital and the ANC government, the VAT increase and e-tolls and for free education at all levels, proper service delivery and free healthcare under a national health insurance scheme.

SAFTU is calling on all formations of the working class to attend. We have invited 74 Civil Society formations and are in the process of inviting every trade union, including COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU, and we hope that SAWPA will be amongst them.

We hope the Summit will announce a programme that can unite the employed and the unemployed workers, those in the informal sector and in more secure work, the students and the landless, the homeless and those fighting against the water crisis and the scourge of violence against women and children. We call on all those interested in participating in a such conference to contact us.

Tel: +27 (11) 331 0124
Fax: +27 (11) 331 0176
Twitter: @SAFTU_Media
Facebook: SAFTU

Physical Address, 34 Eloff Street, Johannesburg 2001

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