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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Wed, 27 Aug 97 18:20:11 CDT
From: rich%pencil@YaleVM.CIS.Yale.Edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: S.A. Labor Steps Up Protests Against Anti-Labor Bill
Article: 16954

/** labr.global: 246.0 **/
** Topic: S.A. Labr Steps Up Protests Against Anti-Labr Bill **
** Written 11:42 PM Aug 26, 1997 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **
From: Institute for Global Communications <labornews@igc.apc.org>
Subject: S.A. Labr Steps Up Protests Against Anti-Labr Bill

/* ---------- "SOUTH AFRICA-ECONOMY: Labour Roars" ---------- */
Copyright 1997 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Labour Roars Some More

By Gumisai Mutume, IPS
21 August 1997

JOHANNESBURG (IPS) Aug 21 -- In what has become a bitter fight to the end, South African unions this week engaged in mass action to force their will on a new piece of labour legislation.

Tempers have been flaring over the Basic Conditions of Employment (BCOE) bill -- scheduled to go next month before a parliamentary committee on labour -- igniting strike action throughout the country.

While the bill provides for a 45-hour working week and four months maternity leave, labour is calling for a 40-hour week and six months maternity leave, of which at least four months should be paid.

Across South Africa, trade unions affiliated to the 1.8-million strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) took to the streets this week. The action marked the culmination of various forms of protests begun when an impasse was reached in negotiations with government and business on May 16.

A 24-hour general strike by COSATU members on June 2 failed to yield the desired results, hence this week's action which climaxed Thursday with marches in Gauteng -- the province that includes the capital -- and the Northern and Northwest provinces.

On Monday, the Eastern Cape province was hit by the strike, which moved the next day to KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga the next day. On Wednesday, the Free State, Western and Northern Cape joined what COSATU's Kim Jurgensen described as "the struggle for an improved floor of rights for all workers particularly the most vulnerable and unorganised".

The strikes were accompanied by rallies and marches to Business South Africa offices to hand over demands that included opposition to child labour. Workers want the bill to explicitly note that the threshold for prohibition should be 16 years.

Labour also fears that the bill allows for downward variation of certain rights. Nor can workers stomach the wide discretionary powers given to the labour minister to vary rights downwards.

"I think this is the most sustained period of protest action since the elections in 1994," notes labour analyst Eddie Webster of the University of the Witwatersrand. "What is distinctive is that it is against legislation or proposals by the government. It is not against employers as much as it is against government."

"What is striking is that it seems to have penetrated even the small towns. It points to strains and stresses within the alliance," Webster told IPS.

However COSATU Secretary-General Sam Shilowa has always been at pains to explain that there is no fall-out between members of the tripartite alliance and that the action is aimed at big business.

The alliance, formed ahead of the 1994 general elections, links the African National Congress (ANC), COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP). The marriage between the three has often been tested, especially over the past year since COSATU and the SACP do not fully agree with the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy (GEAR), a macro-economic policy the ANC- led government introduced in 1996.

Within the negotiations on the BCOE, observers say, government has tended to side more with business, in line with GEAR, but labour has made it clear that it has no intention of downing arms.

"The mass action is sending a clear message to the employers that unless they settle with us, we will continue to occupy the streets of South Africa," COSATU Deputy President Connie September told marchers in KwaZulu Natal.

In two letters to the union, business appears to be willing to compromise, but says it will not change its position over the core issues.

Gerrie Bezuidenhout of the South African Chamber of Business (SACOB) says while his organisation may not be opposed to labour demands for paid maternity leave, it will be impossible to enforce such regulations on individual businesses as it would prove too costly.

Labour says it is especially angry at the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce, which links black businesses.

"We had hoped that knowing the plight of workers and the yoke they carried under apartheid oppression and exploitation, they will have a better understanding of the plight of workers instead of churning out the same old tired arguments of big capital, whose main motive is to preserve apartheid legislation drafted by them to the exclusion of the black population," said COSATU.

The federation has warned that further marches are to be held on the days that business and labour will be making their submissions to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour.



[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
All rights reserved

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