Bud­get fails to boost labour needs

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@ city­press. co. za

Bud­get 2016 has come and gone – and has done lit­tle or noth­ing to as­suage the anger felt in many sec­tions of the em­bat­tled trade union move­ment.

If any­thing, it has given im­pe­tus to those unions to con­vene a “work­ers’ sum­mit” to seek new di­rec­tions both for the labour move­ment and the coun­try.

But even within the gov­ern­ing ANC-led al­liance, there are signs that Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han’s at­tempt to strad­dle the de­mands of both the rat­ings agen­cies and the labour move­ment did not si­lence dis­gruntle­ment.

Al­though VAT was not raised, the in­crease in so­cial grants fell short of the of­fi­cial rate of in­fla­tion, mean­ing that the buy­ing power of the poor­est in so­ci­ety will be fur­ther re­duced.

Last Fri­day, there were two pre-bud­get gath­er­ings that gave a fore­taste of on­go­ing ten­sions on the labour front.

In the first place, the SA Com­mu­nist Party lead­er­ship, headed by gen­eral sec­re­tary Blade Nz­i­mande, staged a “bi­lat­eral meet­ing” with their Cosatu coun­ter­parts, headed by pres­i­dent Sdumo Dlamini.

The other meet­ing was of the steer­ing com­mit­tee for a work­ers’ sum­mit, con­vened by the Na­tional Union of Met­al­work­ers of SA (Numsa).

The bi­lat­eral meet­ing “iden­ti­fied the emer­gence of a par­a­sitic bour­geoisie that seeks to en­trench it­self within key sec­tors of the state”, but at the same time pledged elec­toral sup­port for the ANC.

How­ever, the bi­lat­eral meet­ing also made it clear that the prime rea­son for this sup­port was to en­sure that the “ne­olib­eral cen­tre-right DA and the dan­ger­ous, dem­a­gogic EFF [Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers] are roundly de­feated”.

And while the bi­lat­eral meet­ing crit­i­cised the “fail­ure to pro­vide af­ford­able hous­ing and ac­com­mo­da­tion, pub­lic trans­port and pub­lic health­care”, this was linked to “a dys­func­tional fi­nan­cial sec­tor”.

But it was also made clear that protests would con­tinue about cur­rent tax law re­form leg­is­la­tion and its ef­fect on prov­i­dent funds, along with the de­mand for a com­pre­hen­sive so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem.

In this, the bi­lat­eral meet­ing and the other Fri­day meet­ing shared com­mon ground, al­though with dag­gers drawn. Numsa, ex­pelled from Cosatu and now the largest union in the land, is com­mit­ted to launch­ing a new labour fed­er­a­tion by May Day. And Fri­day’s work­ers’ sum­mit meet­ing brought to­gether rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 34 trade unions, who now form a steer­ing com­mit­tee for the sum­mit.

More than three years ago, Numsa, as part of Cosatu, was one of the driv­ing forces be­hind the de­mand made in the Na­tional Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Labour Coun­cil for govern­ment to pro­duce a com­pre­hen­sive so­cial se­cu­rity pol­icy. An in­ter­de­part­men­tal min­is­te­rial task team was sup­posed to have been es­tab­lished to re­port on this. The unions are still wait­ing.

It is this that lies be­hind the de­mand that the leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing for the har­mon­i­sa­tion of prov­i­dent funds with pen­sion funds be scrapped. Govern­ment has re­sponded by de­lay­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion for two years, ap­par­ently pleas­ing no one.

And so the ten­sion – and the bat­tles – is set to con­tinue at a time when govern­ment, with Gord­han to the fore, is promis­ing sta­bil­ity and in­dus­trial peace while pur­su­ing fun­da­men­tally the same poli­cies of the past.

And those poli­cies, en­com­passed in the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan, re­main anath­ema to most of the labour move­ment.

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