[STATEMENT]: APF – 17 August 2000 – APF Statement Supporting COSATU, Union Protests against Labour Law Amendments

The text of another statement I wrote when I was a Media Officer for the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF).


17 August 2000

The Johannesburg Anti-Privatisation Forum expresses its full solidarity with today’s protest action by COSATU.

We support COSATU’s resolute stand in opposition to the proposed labour law changes. The proposed changes include

  • No special pay for Sundays- no double time or time-and-a-half
  • Empowering the Minister of Labour to allow variation in core Basic Conditions of Employment, including working hours, leave time, overtime pay etc.
  • A provision allowing new workers to be kept on probation for six months instead of three before being appointed, as well as making it easier to dismiss workers on probation
  • Empowering the Minister of Labour to refuse to extend collective bargaining agreements if any one employer claims not to have been consulted.

The overall effect of these changes – which are even more drastic than Botha’s attempted LRA amendments in 1987- is to undermine hard-won worker rights.

Further, these changes directly and deliberately promote the expansion of flexible labour practices i.e. they drive workers into ever more precarious, insecure, and casualised jobs.

This meshes perfectly with the agenda of employers (both private business and government itself) to drive down labour costs: to impose on the working class starvation wages and to remove workers’ access to benefits such as medical aid and pension schemes.

Given that “flexible” casual labour is typically supplied to employers by nefarious institutions such as union-bashing sub-contractors and labour-brokers, and given that workers’ jobs will become ever more insecure, the effect of these measures will also be to force workers out of the unions.

The changes in the labour laws are, sadly, not a sudden break with government policy. Government made it perfectly clear in the controversial Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy, GEAR, that it favoured “flexibility in the collective bargaining system.”

GEAR spells this out clearly. It calls for the “regulation of the labour market in a manner that allows for flexible collective bargaining structures, variable application of employment standards, and voice regulation”. GEAR specifically calls for lower wage rates for “trainees,” increased variation in wage levels, more “employment flexibility” and “variations on norms set in collective bargaining.”

Thus, the labour law changes reflect the ongoing neo-liberal agenda that is savaging the working class. Other elements of this neo-liberal agenda we know well:

  • The privatisation of government assets, exemplified by iGoli 2002 and the recent announcement of the imminent sell-off of Denel, Eskom, Telkom and Transnet
  • Slashing the pubic sector, leading to a huge job shedding in the civil service and the unilateral wage freeze on public sector employees in 1999
  • Cuts in social spending, for example, on hospitals, teachers, old age pensions and on higher education. The effects of this include pension cut-offs in the Eastern Cape and university restructuring, such as the Wits 2001 plan at Wits University which led to 630 jobs being lost in June this year
  • Deregulation of imports and investments, leading to the destruction of the clothing industry and the migration of Anglo to the London Stock Exchange

That this neo-liberal agenda can never benefit the working class is shown most clearly by the massive wave of retrenchments in the last few years. This has taken place in companies faced by international competition from cheap goods, companies closing down because they cannot compete, workers being laid off in government –owned companies such as Telkom as these are restructured, and teachers being fired despite the crying need for education in our communities.

Therefore we again salute COSATU.

The struggle against the proposed labour law amendments is part of the struggle against privatisation.

It is the fight of every brave worker, the fight of every one who refuses to stand by as the working class is plunged into destitution, who refuses to see the rich continue to benefit for another hundred years from our sweat and blood. This is the fight to which the Anti-Privatisation Forum – a broad coalition of labour, student and working class community  unity structures – is committed …  to the very end.

Issued by the Johannesburg Anti-Privatisation Forum.

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