Do a Van Rooyen – Cosatu
Labour federation wants Zuma to reverse legislation that limits people from withdrawing their full pensions
The agreement that ended the four-week strike in Parliament at the end of last year appears to be showing cracks.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which represents white-collar workers in Parliament, has laid a complaint with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) over Parliament’s failure to pay performance bonuses and its unilateral revision of employees’ assessment ratings.
However, Parliament said yesterday the CCMA action had been withdrawn while matters were being discussed internally with Nehawu. The union denied it had withdrawn its case.
“That is not true. We did not withdraw the case,”
If President Jacob Zuma could reverse his decision to appoint Des van Rooyen as minister of finance after four days, there is nothing preventing him from reversing the new retirement tax legislation. This is the view of trade union federation Cosatu, which wants Zuma to scrap the Taxation Laws Amendment Act he signed on Christmas Eve.
The law puts a cap on how much of an employee’s provident fund or pension may be withdrawn when a person leaves a job. It is intended to force workers to save for their retirement and not withdraw savings to pay off debts or fulfil short-term needs.
Trade unions argue it amounts to government babysitting citizens’ financial management, and they have sternly opposed it during its passage through Parliament and the consensusseeking body between government, labour, business and civil society, Nedlac.
The unions want such changes to be accompanied by a comprehensive reform of the social security system. Cosatu and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA are gearing up for a strike to oppose the legislation. Cosatu has even threatened to withhold support for the ANC in upcoming local government elections if the law is not scrapped.
Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said Zuma – who did a turnabout in December after his decision to axe Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and replace him with Van Rooyen caused havoc on the markets – should change his mind on the tax-law matter.
“Well, it has happened before. There has been a decision to appoint a comrade to be a minister, and that person was withdrawn after there was an outcry. We think the ANC is a listening party; they should be listening to this one, too, so that we do not allow ourselves into a more serious catastrophe,” he said.
Dlamini said Cosatu would not back down and Zuma would have to listen to the federation’s pleas.
“He has signed a law in which we say Nedlac has been undermined. We have put that clearly on record,” said Dlamini.
The Cosatu leader’s statements are being seen as dare to Zuma, who finds himself in a precarious position after the December Cabinet reshuffle; the president may have to avoid being seen as weak.
Treasury warned this week that if government bowed to union demands for the repeal of the new tax legislation, it would disrupt budgeting and expenditure plans.
Cosatu leaders have publicly rebuked Treasury, accusing it of smuggling the law through Parliament without proper consultation with all stakeholders at Nedlac. It said the law was based on input from “clueless foreign consultants” and would only benefit the government and fund managers.
On Friday, Treasury stood firm, saying it had already made concessions to the trade unions. It said it had dealt with Cosatu’s concerns when they were raised in Parliament’s standing committee on finance last year and had gone as far as delaying the implementation date from March 2015 to March 2016.
They had also raised the threshold of those affected by the new law from R75 000 to R247 000, meaning low income earners would still be able to cash in their savings. Government had also built in a two-year-review mechanism, which would enable an assessment and possible alterations after 24 months.
Treasury denied ramming the law through and said proper processes had been followed.
“It was up to Parliament to amend any law,” said a Treasury spokesperson.
City Press has learnt that relations between Cosatu and Treasury have broken down to the extent that the ANC is now having to play the role of mediator.
Party officials met Cosatu leaders on Monday after a week of conflict between the federation and government. The bilateral meeting on Monday between the ANC and Cosatu reached no concrete solutions, aside from a commitment that the ANC would engage with Treasury, and further discussions would take place after this week’s ANC national executive committee lekgotla.
Dlamini said Monday’s meeting failed to resolve anything and it was clear that relations in the alliance were strained as a result of the dispute.