COSATU warns government of major battle over labor laws
27 July 2000
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Thursday
warned the government "there would be blood in the streets" if the
proposed amendments to the Labour Relation Act (LRA), the Basic
Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and the Insolvency Act, were
passed into law.
The union said it was opposed to nearly all the proposed amendments
because they eroded workers' rights. The union said it would do
everything possible to reject the proposed amendments from being
passed into law.
Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said at a media briefing
that the labour legislation process had "totally failed" in certain
instances, and would cause a serious crisis within the tri-partite
Cosatu, the South Africa Communist Party (SACP) and the ruling
African National Congress (ANC) form the tri-partite alliance,
which is often responsible for charting government policies.
"The labour market review process has gone horribly wrong. Instead
of the relatively minor, technical amendments to fine-tune labour
legislation as had been suggested, many of the proposed amendments
in fact completely upset the delicate balance achieved through the
years of negotiations, and threaten to seriously destabilize the
degree of labor stability which has been achieved in the new
dispensation," said Vavi.
He said the proposed legislation could have serious repercussions
in swaying workers votes away from the ANC during the coming local
"It will affect the voting pattern of workers in the coming
election if the proposals are carried forward in their current
form," said Vavi.
"We are not prepared to let an inch of the gains go without a
fight," he added.
Cosatu said the government's proposal that employers and workers
should consult until consensus was reached before retrenchments
were effected, failed to meet workers demands to make retrenchments
a mandatory negotiation process which incorporated the right to
The federation also lashed out at the proposal to remove the
premium for Sunday work.
The Department of Labour has proposed to remove the statute
requiring employers to pay workers double or any amount greater
than the normal rate for work on Sunday. The department said the
proposal was as an attempt to help and encourage small enterprises.
"The proposal to completely get rid of the premium for Sunday work,
and therefore Sunday as a protected day of rest for workers, is a
massive step backwards, and is totally unacceptable. If
implemented, it will create a position which is even worse than
that afforded to workers under the old apartheid BCEA," Vavi said.
This amendment was driven by the narrow fiscal concerns of the
Department of Finance, while ignoring the social impact of
encouraging employers to deny thousands of parents access to their
children, without the disincentive provided by the current premium
for Sunday work.
Vavi also criticized a proposal that would ensure that Labour
Minister, Membathisi Mdladlana, could vary any basic right
currently protected under the BCEA.
He said the proposed amendments did not deal adequately with the
issue of casualization, while he was also concerned with the six
months probation period.
Vavi added that the proposals would create a serious integrity
crisis for the tri-partite alliance and could threaten to plunge
the country into a major political crisis.
"The worst proposals, particularly on retrenchments, downward
variation, Sunday work, bargaining council and probation,
represents the most serious attack on hard won workers' rights and
gains since the 1988 attempt by former president P.W. Botha's
regime to roll back workers rights."
Despite Cosatu feeling that little attention was given to its input
during the review process, the federation will participate in the
National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) process
for the discussion on the amendments.
Vavi said the federation would also hold bi-lateral talks with the
Department of Labour over the proposals.
"We shall not take this lying down. The government if it takes
forward these amendments must realise that they will set us on a
real collision course." "We are not prepared to let an inch of the
gains go without a fight," he said.