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Cosatu demands privatisation moratorium

By Ellis Mnydandu, Reuters
23 June 2000

Johannesburg (Reuters) - Labour federation Cosatu on Thursday demanded a moratorium on the government's privatisation drive, saying the move threatened to swell the country's jobless ranks.

The call came from Zwelinzima Vavi, general-secretary of the 1.8 million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions.

He said the government should finalise a delayed social plan designed to minimise the impact of restructuring on jobs before going ahead with privatisation.

"What puzzles us is that whilst this major process of restructuring that results in major job losses [is proceeding] ...there is hardly any policy in place to guide it," Vavi told a news conference.

"The Cosatu executive committee insists a moratorium be agreed to before any discussions on the rest of the matters are pursued or concluded," he added.

South Africa's privatisation programme centres on the restructuring and partial sell-off of the nation's four big parastatals: defence group Denel, telecoms monopoly Telkom, power utility Eskom and transport group Transnet.

The government has proposed to raise at least R40 billion over the next four years from the process, which is cited as key to boosting foreign investor confidence and delivering basic service to millions of poor blacks.

But Cosatu has said privatisation should be guided by social responsibility, such as safeguarding jobs.

Some 500 000 jobs have been lost since 1994, when the ANC came into power.

The economy continues to shed jobs, and the offical unemployment rate stood at 25.2 percent in October last year, according to latest statistics released by the Reserve Bank on Wednesday.

Vavi said Cosatu dismissed arguments that it was through restructuring that South Africa could benefit from foreign investment to fund job creation.

"The theory that we're being fed with is that we should allow the job massacre now, and after everyone has been thrown into the streets, jobs will arise out of the ashes. This is nonsense that Cosatu will never accept," he said.

He said the demand for a moratorium on restructuring would form part of Cosatu demands at a job-creation forum, which includes government, labour and business.

The forum met on Monday and agreed to look at possible amendments to a section in the country's Labour Relations Act, which Cosatu says gives employers increased powers to dismiss workers.

"The demand for the moratorium on the restructing is now part of our overall demands," Vavi told Reuters.

He said if the government dithered Cosatu may be forced to consider staging a national strike. Cosatu staged a one-day strike in May to protest against job losses and the labour legislation.

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