Source: SAFTU


From the 14th of December until the 31st of December 2023, the toiling masses are travelling from their places of work to their places of birth, and between tourism destinations, for Christmas and New Year’s festive.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) wishes the working people a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and safe travels to their homes and different destinations.

It must be noted that holidays accorded for the Christmas festive have come not because the employers have become more ‘holier and Christian than thou’, but because workers fought hard to temporarily free themselves from the spinning wheel of capitalist industry i.e. exploitation.

Given that workers in some industries and companies are working on rotation throughout the December month attest that the capitalist exploiters have found a way to circumvent the Christmas holidays that have been won in the past and have the wheels of industry spinning endlessly without paying “overtime”. It is for these reasons that workers in such industry will work only on ordinary basis, taking days off on ordinary rotational basis, which has no benefit of overtime work even if workers work on 25, 26 December and 01 January.

This is a reversal of the gains by workers over the years and graphically highlights the weakness of the labour movement. Has 2023 been different in terms of struggles to defend and advance gains of the workers movement?


Compared to 2022, wages have declined on average. In addition, they have declined to below inflation levels according to Investec Household Finance Survey. This is further supported by StatsSA measure of wage inflation, which shows wages have grown by an average of 2% in the third quarter of 2023.

The decline of wages below inflation means that workers’ wages are diminishing in real terms. It means the buying power of workers’ wages has declined compared to the consumer prices. This exacerbates the cost of living crisis because workers cannot afford the basket of consumer goods they were able to afford in 2021.

The cost of living crisis is not only reflected in percentages, but is reflected in the real figures as published by the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University in 2022. The Bureau reported that 75% of the workforce in South Africa earned less than R5 800 per month. A Significant number of them earn the minimum wage of R4 270 per month (R25,42 per hour for a working day of 8 hours).

The Household Affordability Index produced by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group proves that, taken at the minimum wage or the Bureau’s 2022 report, many workers’ households cannot afford the household basket. This festive season, workers are going home with diminished wages against the rising prices of consumer goods.


In the context of the climate change and the drastic weather conditions, it is important for us to transition from fossil fuel energy sources to renewables. After many years of resistance, a faction of capitalists has relented on the demands for decarbonisation. They are now adapting their businesses and pressuring their political elites in government to adopt climate friendly policies. However, this is not because they want to save the planet, but because they have found a new site for capital accumulation with the extraction of new minerals for energy storage, manufacturing of varying components and distribution of such electricity.

Therefore, they have sought to guide the political economy of the transition to enable a conducive condition for the accumulation of capital and rigging of profits. They want to also use this opportunity to privatise energy provision by pushing their political elites to unbundle the previously state-owned vertically-integrated public power and energy utilities. PetroSA and Eskom are currently suffering the consequences of this privatisation drive.

Our outcry has thus far not translated into a solid opposition and resistance to this burgeoning encroachment of the private sector in controlling and owning the energy provision. SAFTU has consistently fought against the privatisation of the energy provision, and we have recently made a written and verbal submission to Parliament opposing the new amendments to the Electricity Regulation Act. The amendments seeks to create an enabling legal environment for the liberalisation of energy production and consequently for the privatisation of energy provision.

Our fight to stop this privatisation must escalate in 2024, with the creation of the broadest possible coalition of those opposed to liberalisation and privatisation of public utilities.


Government, encouraged by institutions like International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), and guided by its naïve believe in the neoliberal doctrine, have carried out budget cuts and plan more budget cuts in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). Its steadfastness in neoliberal doctrine is disappointing and fiscal austerity is certainly one of their gravediggers in the upcoming national elections.

These budget cuts have severely affected service delivery as the reduction in the headcount, infrastructure backlog and perpetual shortage of equipment has meant services of lesser and poor quality are delivered to our people.

Temporal freezing of vacant posts goes hand in hand with attrition/retrenchments – the permanent closure of posts. Together, they are part of the fiscal austerity measure aimed at reducing the headcount in the public service, resulting in the Educator-to-learner ratio of 1:31 in basic education; Police-to-population ratio of 1:413; Nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:224; Doctor-to-patient ratio of 3 198 and a Social worker-to-patient ration of 1:5000.

Such a dire situation of public servants compared to the population they service does not warrant any freezes, let alone reductions which are often carried as part of the fiscal consolidation they are so committed to. The more than 80 percent of the population that depends on social services deserves quality services, and such low levels of employment, combined with mismanagement and maladministration, have increasingly denied them such quality services.

There is infrastructure backlog across the public sector. Institutions of government such as schools, hospitals and clinics, have infrastructure shortage. To freeze procurement on infrastructure is going to adversely affect attempts to address this backlog. The severe lack of infrastructure as a result of austerity and corruption has caused overcrowding in school classrooms, lack of ablution facilities in some schools, no libraries in more than 15 000 schools, including shortage of maths and science laboratories in more than 17 000 schools.

In hospitals, the acute effects of the lack of infrastructure have been witnessed in midwifery wards filled to over-capacity, with heavily pregnant women sleeping in the corridors. This situation has led to Xenophobes taking advantage of the situation to blame the overcrowding in Hospitals, the lack of medicine and lack of proper healthcare on migrants, instead of blaming the irresponsible ANC government’s pursuit for austerity.


Unemployment has marginally declined from Covid-19 levels, but is still alarmingly high. The unemployed counted through expanded unemployment, that includes those who have given up looking for jobs because it is fruitless, is 11,7 million.

In the last decade, unemployment has increased significantly: by the narrow definition from 5 million people since 2013 to 7.8 million. In the 3rd quarter, the number of young people between the ages of 15 and 34 who are Not in any form of Employment, Education and Training (NEET), stand at 8,6 million.

The capitalist economy is failing to create jobs. Afterall, this economy is not about creating jobs and caring after the people, it is about profit rigging. Hence the investment strikes and the shifting of investments from productive sectors to the financial sector where the rigging of profits is more secure and less riskier.


In March, SAFTU participated in the loadshedding shutdown called by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), for which we successfully expanded the mandate to include other issues affecting workers. This was in line with the resolutions of SAFTU’s congress that the federation must be a campaigning federation.

Furthermore, we:

  • Joined various stakeholders in a successful legal battle to declare loadshedding a human rights violation,
  • Protested against the restrictive monetary policy regime of the South African Reserve Bank through pickets and statements,
  • Fought for the insourcing of workers at the eThekwini Metropolitan municipality through our municipal union, MATUSA,
  • Were accepted into NEDLAC has since our participation offered radical solutions to the crisis of capitalism that is so direly affecting workers,
  • Negotiated through our affiliates for above-inflation wage increments in different companies,
  • Held demonstrations at the Department of Social Development (DSD) alongside our allies in the Cry of Xcluded to demand a Basic Income Grant and a Jobs Guarantee,
  • Protested against fiscal austerity,
  • Helped un-unionised workers at Damelin with raising complaints to their managers and beginning a process of recruitment and formal representation,
  • Helped Qina Mshayeli in submitting their issues to the Minister of Employment and Labour, and taking the issues of minibus taxi industry workers, and
  • Took up the process of organising the e-Hailing workers.
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