South Africa

Labour Protests

Fix Eskom and hands off our jobs, warns Cosatu

COSATU members march through the streets of Johannesburg on their way to deliver a memorandum at the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, on 13 February, 2019. Photo: BHEKI SIMELANE

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and its affiliate unions held marches across the country on Wednesday. The restructuring of Eskom, imminent job losses and unemployment and the uncertain economic outlook were among the many issues that were driving the protests.

Trade union federation Cosatu and affiliate unions are gloomy about the current economic climate and the state of joblessness, aggravated this week by a wave of load shedding. On Wednesday, members took to the street in various cities to halt job losses and the privatisation of Eskom.

Marching workers in Johannesburg warned that if Eskom was not fixed urgently, many workers at the power utility would lose their jobs.

The workers made a call to end job cuts and the threat of more job losses across all sectors.

Cosatu welcomed the slight increase in jobs for the fourth quarter of 2018 announced on Tuesday, but said it did not make up for much considering all the jobs currently at risk, including the thousands of jobs that have been under threat at the SABC.

Cosatu expressed its displeasure at the government’s stalling in signing the Minimum Service Delivery agreement which the Federation desperately wanted to see through. “We need to find ways to fast track the signing of this agreement,” spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said.

Cosatu said it was “unacceptable” to restructure Eskom and split it into three arms as it would lead to job losses and would not resolve the power utility’s woes. “How is this going to address the mess at Kusile and Medupi? How is creating more bureaucracy going to fix the problems? How will this sort out the debt and funding problems? How will it fix the burden of IPPs on Eskom?” asked Pamla.

We cannot stand by and watch while jobs are being shed, all around. We need to fight,” said Cosatu Gauteng Provincial Chair Amos Munyela.

COSATU members march through the streets of Johannesburg to protest against job cuts and plans to unbundle Eskom, on 13 February 2019. Photo: Bheki Simelane.

Asked about Cosatu’s alliance with the ANC, Munyela said Cosatu was a fully fledged organisation whose primary job was to look after the interests of workers. He said the ANC should rein in its ministers who were deviating from Cosatu’s resolutions.

Referring to the mandate of the Reserve Bank, and recent comments that there would be no tampering with its independence, he said: “The ANC must act on its leaders who go out and speak randomly because we don’t know where they get that mandate.”

Those deployed in government are not implementing the resolutions of the workers but those of capitalists,” Munyela said.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) was represented at the Joburg march by Second Deputy Secretary-General Solly Mapaila who described the “ignorance of the mining sector” and said it was constantly announcing job cuts without creating any employment.

Mapaila singled out Eskom and said job guarantees were needed.

He blamed capitalism and the exploitation of workers as the root of the country’s problems and said that the privatisation of state assets would be resisted.

The quarterly labour force survey released on Tuesday showed a slight increase in employment in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared to the third quarter. The survey shows that unemployment decreased from 6.2-million in the third quarter to 6.1-million in the fourth quarter of 2018. (see year-on-year decline here: Unemployment Rate Keeps Climbing here and earlier report here:  Unemployment: our biggest problem.)

The current rate of unemployment stands at 27.1%.  and 

Sanco Gauteng Provincial Chair Chris Malematja called for the nationalisation of mines, a clear plan for Eskom, and guarantees that unbundling would not affect “a single worker”.

The City of Johannesburg was a sea of red as thousands of Cosatu members marched through the streets. The organization’s leadership and its members delivered a memorandum to the Gauteng legislature that demanded a shift towards a labour-absorbing growth path.

We need interventions that place the creation of jobs at the centre of economic policy instead of regulating them to a ‘trickle down’ effect,” read the memorandum.

Cosatu demanded an end to State Capture, corruption and mismanagement. The federation wants a probe into why the Kusile and Medupi power stations have taken so long to complete, and also why the cost of the projects has exceeded the initial budget. Cosatu demanded that Eskom renegotiate all renewable IPP contracts with a view to withdrawing from all such contracts.

Cosatu wants Eskom to invest in its own renewable energy rather than relying on the private sector. The federation also demands an immediate moratorium on retrenchment in the mines. They also demand healthy and safe work conditions for employees.

Considering that the above demands are not new, we expect an immediate positive response and failure to provide a satisfactory response will lead to further protest actions,” the memorandum read.

This is the time to take matters in our own hands. We are expected to fold our arms while we lose our jobs and constantly suffer abuse in our workplaces. Meanwhile, corruption thrives. We find ourselves in the position the country is currently in because of corruption, and we want accountability for all the billions lost through corruption and mismanagement,” said Thulani Nhlapho, a protester from the East Rand.

Cosatu’s Gauteng Chairperson Munyela said the federation and affiliates would intensify protests if the government failed to listen. “The Labour Force is the main driver of the economy. We want full participation in decisions that might alter the cause of the ambition of workers. We want accountability from Eskom and we want an end to job cuts or threats thereof.” DM

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