Labour 'is committed to solving jobs crisis'
Cosatu would oppose accord cutting wages of low-paid workers
Reneé Grawitzky, in Business Day,
14 March 2000
LABOUR was committed to seeking a solution to the economic crisis
facing the country, Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) parliamentary
office head Neil Coleman told a recent conference.
However, he cautioned that labour could not enter into a national
agreement to stimulate jobs and growth if it reduced the income of
He said no one could oppose an agreement that contributed to low
levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. However, suspicion
existed in SA that such an agreement would affect the wages of
workers. "How can you expect the victims of economic crisis to
bear the brunt?" he said.
This emerged during a debate on whether SA needed a national agreement
for employment and growth at a conference organised by the National
Labour and Economic Development Institute (Naledi) and the Friedrich
Labour, he said, was aware of the need to resolve the social crisis
facing the country. The "greatest pressure" was on labour to
address this. In such a context, caution had to be
exerted to prevent the mechanical transposing of another model into
the SA scenario.
Rainer Zugehör from the German-based Max Plank Institute said all
social pacts in Europe accepted the need for wage moderation or some
form of flexibility in terms of the employer/employee relationship. He
said it was difficult for unions to be involved in discussions on a
social pact or national agreements for growth as they had to look
beyond their members' interests to those of "outsiders" who
had no jobs.
"Trade unions will only go this route when the
country is in a crisis," he said. This had occurred in countries
such as the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany and Denmark.
Coleman said labour could not support an agreement that worsened the
current conditions. He said internationally there were two types of
accord process embarked upon - an incomes accord and an accord driven
by economic crises which lead to a social-type accord.
The former, he said, was more defensive in nature and required some
form of wage restraint coupled with tax concessions and social
security benefits. Often, benefits did not materialise. The latter
approach was based on the social democratic-type models which emerged
in post-war Europe.
University of Witwatersrand sociology professor Eddie Webster proposed
a "class compromise" where key players improved their
positions through "positive terms of mutual
co-operation". This would lead to agreements reached in order to
ensure that the "social costs of globalisation were not borne by
working people (including the unemployed) alone".
A framework agreement, he said, would include provision for
"regulated flexibility" in the labour market; some form of
income security or basic income grant and some extension of social
services and improved tax collection and social service delivery.
Coleman said there appeared to be a preparedness on the part of
government to enter into some form of national agreement. Ultimately,
a meaningful agreement would have to be reached first within the