The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is disgusted that workers continue to bear the brunt of the government’s unnecessary austerity programme. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is a critical institution, created to give workers – in particular, more vulnerable workers – access to justice in cases of alleged unfair labour practices. It is being reduced to uselessness thanks to the government’s austerity programme.
Government is cutting deep into the CCMA’s bone and marrow. This year, although 17 000 cases go before the CCMA each month, Treasury is taking back 10% of the budget, R100 million, with additional cuts of 17% and 23% the next two years. Yet the demands for CCMA services have skyrocketed due to the devastating impact of the CORONA-19 and the lockdown.
The lockdown has created a situation where millions of workers have been left destitute with at least 2.2 million losing their jobs in the second quarter and another five million pushed out of the formal labour market. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers have not received either their UIF, TERS or even retrenchment packages. All these disputes ordinarily are referred to the CCMA.
CCMA should be employing more commissioners and ensuring that all the part time are permanent to cope with the demand and to address their increasing bias towards the employers.
With arbitration services rapidly being withdrawn and a massive backlog anticipated as a result, even Business Day newspaper calls the cutbacks imposed by CCMA Director Cameron Morajane a “mad scheme,” and condemns government for creating chaos in this vital part of our labour market.
The CCMA has always understood that it is providing a service to the most vulnerable sections of workers who are not in the bargaining councils that offer dispute resolution mechanisms. These workers do not belong to any union and are working as in extremely exploitative sectors: farms, security, domestic, cleaning, restaurants and fast food chains, and call centres.
South Africa is the world’s most unequal country, and one reason is government’s hostility to the trade unions that should be protecting these vulnerable workers.
And now thanks to budget cuts, the CCMA has confirmed that it no longer accepts walk-in service and insists on workers filing their complaints through emails. Which of the workers in the categories above have access to emails?
We have been told that the CCMA is not just sending away thousands of workers but is not entertaining only workers who are on arbitration stages and not conciliation stages.
This curtailing of CCMA services spells a disaster for workers of our country. It will generate such hatred at the injustices of our extreme version of racial capitalism, that government elites imposing these cuts will see increasingly desperate protests, which the state will not be able to control except with Marikana-style tactics.
The CCMA is not the only victim of the austerity programme. Government has already announced that it is not extending most of the emergency relief measurers it introduced during the brutal coronavirus lockdown. This includes the tokenistic R350 unemployment grant.
Working-class education is taking nearly R10 billion in cuts, at the same time our schools should be rapidly upgrading water, sanitation and classroom capacities so as to keep teachers, learners and their families safe from Covid-19.
The housing programme has just been decimated, with the minister announcing last week that low-income people will have to construct their own houses on distantly-located land that is as cheap as possible.
Meanwhile rates, water and electricity bills are soaring far faster than inflation across the country. And declining central-to-local Equitable Share funding is causing 92 wretchedly-poor municipalities to default on their bulk Eskom bills, resulting in this state agency’s increased ‘load reduction’ collective disconnections of everyone in range, even if they paid their electricity bill.
SAFTU condemns the uncaring government attitude, making the poor more vulnerable in the face of the coronavirus and a lockdown that pushed millions more into poverty and unemployment and made South Africa even more unequal than ever before.
SAFTU is not taking this lying down. SAFTU has called for a total shutdown of the economy on the day that the Minister of Finance will be presenting his anti-poor and anti-development budget speech on the 24 February 2021.
We call on all working-class formations, trade union federations, social movements, community groups, youth and students organisations, women’s group, environmentalists and left-leaning political parties to rally behind this call. We call on the taxi associations who also are agitated by the government’s refusal to extend TERS and to subsidise taxis so as to lower ridership capacity to safe levels – even as it gives massive funding to private bus companies and the elite Gautrain.
The Treasury is the implementing agent for an austerity regime that will radicalise vast numbers of our people. The government’s neoliberalism, corruption and mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis will fill the streets with protests.
The alternatives to austerity include using ‘Quantitative Easing’ – R20 billion per week of Reserve Bank money-printing capacity is available (according to former Treasury official Andrew Donaldson) – and emergency taxation on the rich along with rapidly-tightened exchange controls so as to lower interest rates.
Government’s inability to even consider these well-tested strategies, and its refusal to move in the direction of a genuine socialist oriented democracy with an environmental Just Transition agenda to build back better by finally directing infrastructure investments towards meeting our basic needs, are going cause it enormous regret – not just at the ballot box next year but in terms of its fast-waning legitimacy.