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COSATU warns government of major battle over labor laws

27 July 2000

Johannesburg 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 alliance.

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 government elections.

"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 strike.

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.

source: gopher://gopher.anc.org.za/00/anc/newsbrief/2000/news0728

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