Tuesday, February 16, 2016

COSATU Response to the 2016 State of the Nation Address
12 February 2016

COSATU welcomes broad thrusts of President, JG Zuma’s State of the Nation Address delivered yesterday in Parliament. We are satisfied that the president has highlighted many important steps towards lifting the nation out of its economic crisis and placing it on the correct path. We remain concerned though about some key issues that were not mentioned but we will further engage with the detail, when the various governments’ action plans are spelt out in the budget speech of the Finance Minister and by the various departments.

Economic Intervention

COSATU welcomes the President’s commitment and acceptance of the need for fundamental radical economic transformation, as the only way to address unemployment, and massive levels of poverty and inequality. However, we remain convinced that the economic targets set out in the National Development Plan ,are neither appropriate nor realistic. The biggest crisis and threat to the nation is the high unemployment rate of 34% ,but worryingly the SONA was thin on details ,on how will we ensure as a matter urgency ,that all South Africans have decent permanent jobs. It cannot continue to be business as usual by government and we expect that all departments, provinces and municipalities will shoulder the responsibility of creating jobs. We cannot afford to leave workers unemployed or without hope of finding decent permanent work. The lack of detail in this regard remains deeply worrying.

We have also noted with concern government’s silence on the suffering of workers at the hands of privatisation, outsourcing, labour broking and other exploitative labour practices. COSATU demands that government ban labour broking once and for all. It is nothing less than a form of modern slavery built on poverty wages, corruption, smashing of labour rights and union bashing.

Government needs to honour the commitment given by the President in the 2015 January 8th statement, where he promised workers that they will end outsourcing in the state. Today we still have too many departments and parastatals that have chosen to defy this President’s commitment. Action needs to be taken against those, who chose to weaken the state through the use of consultants and outsourcing.

The federation supports government’s plans to overhaul our migration policies. This needs to include a crack down on businesses, who seek to exploit undocumented migrant labour and thus creating conflict with local workers.

COSATU welcomes the President’s commitment to social dialogue and the federation is ready to be a constructive partner. We appreciate the President’s efforts to engage business on the steps needed to address our economic crisis; however this will not work if such engagements do not include labour. Again we have seen this omission of labour in Eskom’s War Room. Government cannot continue to blame labour for instability in industrial relations if we are not properly consulted.

Whilst the federation supports and welcomes all efforts to improve investment and create an environment that allows businesses to grow, this cannot be at the expense of workers’. We will defend our hard won labour rights. The federation wants to unambiguously make it clear that we are deeply opposed to VAT and any lower and middle income tax increases.

COSATU strongly appreciates the Presidency’s support for the engagements at Nedlac ,to bring about a legislated national minimum wage and labour market stability. However these engagements cannot be allowed to drag on forever and government needs to play a decisive role, towards ensuring that these goals are realised. Workers must not be blamed for long strong strikes but the root causes of strikes must instead be properly and urgently addressed. All that workers want are permanent jobs and decent wages.

COSATU acknowledges the President’s condemnation of retrenchments but we expected a more decisive intervention on this issue from government. We expect big business to now come to the party also and take seriously the existing unemployment levels. We cannot afford to add further to this number, through these ongoing retrenchments. The mining sector is haemorrhaging jobs at an alarming rate and government must show leadership and actively intervene to save thousands of workers’ jobs. As the tragedy at Lily mine in Mpumalanga has shown, we have long way to go to ensure that mineworkers are safe. Reckless companies, who abuse and fail to take care of the safety of their workers must be held accountable and ultimately dealt with. The State owned enterprises, like SAA, Telkom and the Post Office, must also be told that retrenchments will not be allowed.

We applauds the excellent work government has done to support industrialisation, manufacturing and export promotion, and to grow the textile, leather, automotive sector industries through incentives. However much more needs to be done, especially in our rural areas and townships. The federation approves of the efforts to protect local jobs, whilst negotiating the extension of AGOA and other related cases. DTI needs to ensure that no jobs are lost to this and other deals. The $10 billion Chinese investment that was announced is welcomed as long as it is based upon the principles of creating local jobs.

The investments in agriculture and aquaculture are welcomed and appreciated. Again much more needs to be done to speed up land reform and to provide sufficient support to emerging farmers ,as well as agricultural exports as a whole. More needs to be done to give farm workers land and equity and to protect them from evictions, retrenchments and feudal abuses.

State Owned Enterprises

Government has been too soft for far too long on our SOEs. Their CEOs have been allowed to loot, privatise and outsource at will. Telkom, the Post Office and SAA’s workers have borne the brunt of labour broking. COSATU insist that these SOE’s need to be funded adequately to fulfil their developmental mandates and workers cannot simply be squeezed all the time to make up for management’s failures. The Department of Public Enterprises needs to urgently table its Shareholder Management Bill in Parliament that will give it adequate powers to intervene.

COSATU cannot understand why the President praised SANRAL because it has been utter disaster. Government must recognise the stark reality and accept that workers and indeed voters have overwhelmingly rejected e-Tolls. This crude form of privatisation of access to public roads must be abolished. What is needed is an investment in accessible, safe, affordable and reliable public transport for all. This must include passenger and freight trains, busses and taxis.

The federation welcomes the six {6} months period of no electricity outages. However we remain worried about the impact of imposed shortages upon key industries. We appreciate the investments in Eskom and more especially on renewable energy and we believe this is the correct way to go. However COSATU cannot understand, agree with or support the expansion of nuclear energy. It is an outdated unsafe technology that is expensive, dangerous and takes too long to build. COSATU wants the whole nuclear procurement deal to be cancelled and we believe that renewable energy is the future because it’s safe, affordable, fast and creates more jobs.

The president was silent on Treasury’s crude plans to privatise Eskom and that is very worrying. Eskom is a strategic developmental SOE that was built by workers to provide affordable electricity for all. Privatising it will simply make electricity unaffordable. We also expect our government to also intervene to stop Eskom squeezing the already struggling lower and middle income families with their continuous above inflation price increases.

Social Services

COSATU appreciates the President’s interventions in the Treasury’s ill intentioned forced retirement reforms. We are confident that these negotiations will bear fruit but also we are ready for a battle if the law is not scrapped. Workers’ hard earned money cannot be touched by government. Workers cannot be told what to do with their money, especially ,when faced with retrenchments. Government needs to table and engage meaningful on the long promised discussion paper on comprehensive social security. It is long overdue and cannot be delayed any longer.

We have welcomed the release of the NHI White Paper and look forward to engaging government on it. We also call on government not buckle under pressure from a medical industry that has grown addicted to obscene profits and that is opposed to the NHI.We acknowledge and congratulate government on the excellent work done to roll out ARVs, reduce HIV/ AIDS levels and increase life expectancy. All departments should learn from this example, however more needs to be done to address the dire conditions of our public hospitals and clinics. COSATU is pleased that the long awaited state owned pharmaceutical company has been established. It needs to move fast to ensure medicines become affordable for workers and the poor majority.

We support the massive amount of funds shifted by government to help poor students but more needs to be done. This includes lifting the NSFAS qualifying threshold and ensuring free education for all. The under expenditure by SETAs needs to be dealt with.

The federation commends government for the progressive UIF Bill before Parliament. It must urgently be passed as it will help hundreds of thousands of workers to access the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Further engagements must commence urgently at Nedlac on how to further expand access to it for vulnerable, impoverished and unemployed workers.

We applaud the programme to train 15 000 plumbers but a lot is needed to urgently address the maintenance backlog that has seen many rural towns left without water for weeks. The solution again, is not to increase water tariffs so that this necessity becomes unaffordable. Government needs to present a coherent plan to save water, including desalination.


We are worried by the SONA’s silence on the public service wage bill and want to make it clear that COSATU will not agree to any attempt to roll back workers’ hard won gains. Workers earn far too little and battle to keep up with inflation and if there are salaries to be cut, it must be those of the exorbitantly paid ministers and CEOs etc.We are equally concerned by the lack of detail and attention given to the scourge of corruption blighting our public service, parastatals and society at large. This monster of corruption needs to be dealt with at all levels.

COSATU welcomes government’s efforts to reduce wasteful expenditure. But this must equally be driven in all ministries, departments, provinces and municipalities. The federation welcomes the reduced expenditure for the SONA ,but R3.5 million that was spent is still too much, more so when most of that was spent on flying in staff from provincial legislatures, when there are workers employed to manage the SONA at Parliament. That money could have been better used to address Parliament’s workers’ legitimate demands.

The proposed relocation of Parliament might sound good in principle but it cannot simply be based upon saving Ministerial costs. Moving Parliament would mean uprooting 1400 Parliamentary staff and their families from their homes. The estimated cost of moving parliament is R7 billion rand and we don’t know ,where such money would come from. Whilst we fully support cost cutting, it must not come at the expense of workers and their families.

The president also did not condemn the use of consultants and agencies by government departments. This growing tendency of departments to abandon their responsibilities by outsourcing their mandates to agencies outside the public service is privatisation by another name. This fragments the public service and collapses collective bargaining.

We welcome the badly needed interventions in local government. This should include making sure that municipalities are adequately funded and we should also reconsider the need of having both District and Local Municipalities with overlapping functions. Whilst we appreciate government’s efforts to create jobs for the most vulnerable in our society, however the growing tendency of replacing permanent public service and municipal jobs with temporary EPWP and CPW needs to be stopped.

We are happy with the President’s support for our dedicated police officers. More needs to be done to support them, including increasing the minimum sentences and issuing mandatory sentences to all those criminals, who attack them.

We acknowledge the efforts and commitments outlined by the President to address our economic and service delivery crises. However the creation of permanent decent work for all, must be at the centre of everything that government does. Anything less will not address the root causes of our challenges. We also need to talk about the structural changes needed in the economy to allow the black majority to participate in it. The current skewed ownership patterns that favour the white minority are not sustainable and needs to be changed.COSATU will wait to see various programmes outlined by the President to be reflected in the budget speech and the budgets of the various departments.

Lastly ,the federation strongly condemn those aging juveniles of the EFF for their continuous hooliganism in parliament. Their barking carnival act exposes their political bankruptcy. They have nothing to offer except theatrics and vulgar posturing dressed up as radicalism and militancy. The voters should punish these show ponies that are undermining the mandate given to them by the voters. They have shown that they are in parliament to perform for TV cameras and nothing else.

Issued by COSATU

Sizwe Pamla (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Street

P.O.Box 1019
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911 Direct 010 219-1339
Mobile: 060 975 6794
E-Mail: sizwe@cosatu.org.za

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