Keywords : South Africa Human and trade union rights Reports

On Wednesday 7th October, Hundreds of Cosatu-affiliated union members marched from Cosatu House through the Johannesburg city center to gather at the Mineral Council SA head office. A memorandum was delivered on behalf of millions of workers and people of South Africa. This was within the context of a nationwide general strike called by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to protest against corruption and to raise several other issues affecting workers in the country.

“Every five years we put a government in charge but someone else gets to pull the strings, leading to the current problems we are currently faced with, including gender-based violence, corruption and job losses,” said Cosatu’s Gauteng chairperson, Amos Monyela,

This national protest went also across all nine provinces and was joined by three labour federations namely: The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) and Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa), other workers and ordinary people organizations such as: The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), Police and Prisons Rights Union (Popcru) etc. This national action was supported by millions of workers the world over.

A Cosatu member read from the memorandum: “We are gathered here to express, on behalf of millions of workers and ordinary people, anger, frustration and united solidarity against the horrifying conditions we are all faced with.”
He continued: “We stand firm to express our anger and disappointment at the lack of care, support and protection of fellow frontline workers, who put their lives at risk to save all of us from the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, we have lost several of them in this pandemic, because we put the profits and interests of the rich ahead of those of workers and the poor.”

While the strike action was primarily aimed to focus on the wage dispute with the government, the workers took this opportunity to raise awareness on support to be given to frontline workers and better governance.

Some of the others points raised by the memorandum focused on:
• “Occupational health and safety: When workers sell their labour they do not sell their lives. However, often the risk of non-compliance with the health and safety measures is on employees.
• “Corruption: This is a struggle against greed, parasitism and institutionalized profiteering at the expense of poor people and workers.
• “On fighting retrenchments and ending the unemployment crisis: We call on the state and mining industries to take seriously the crisis we face, particularly unemployment and hunger.
• “On fighting the scourge of gender-based violence and the gender pay gap: We reaffirm our determination to campaign tirelessly for government to ratify ILO convention 190, which clearly states both the crime of sexual harassment and the required steps and action to deal with it appropriately.
• “On fighting to end the sustained attacks on collective bargaining agreements and workers’ rights in general: Never in our history, since apartheid, have we seen the levels of attacks on bargaining and workers’ rights in the manner we are being exposed to daily.”

The memorandum also called for the provision of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for all frontline workers and the elimination of the gender pay gap in all workplaces.

The strike comes as South Africa and the world are grappling with the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and as the labour force stumbles out of an economic crisis of significant proportions.

Workers like nurses, who are the majority of health professionals who got infected and affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the workplace, have not been paid their salary adjustment since 1 April this year. And neither have they been paid COVID-19 risk allowance despite the risk they are taking.

“Our colleagues are frontline workers in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, and corruption has deprived our members of proper PPE. As labour, we have a direct interest in what is happening as it affects the way we care for patients.” Said Patience Phirwa on behalf of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa.
“The working conditions are very scary. We are not valued as nurses in this country. We are only driven by our pledge to serve our communities. Laundry nurses work in risky conditions where they constantly come into contact with dirty linen and without proper protection.” she added.

According to the spokesperson of the Police and Prisons Rights Union (Popcru) “The issue of corruption has had a dire effect on the creation of jobs and the proper functioning of state institutions. That has created job losses and diminished the populace’s faith in the criminal justice system of the country, as not much has been done about it thus far.”

The strike took place in South Africa’s big cities. Unions affiliated to Cosatu said the issues which Cosatu was complaining about were interrelated, and that the union federation needed the support of all workers.

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