Business as usual at the top

2014-07-06 15:00

In October 2012, just two months after the Marikana massacre, President Jacob Zuma and key Cabinet ministers met top leaders of South Africa’s trade unions and the business community.

The Presidential High-Level Dialogue was a direct response to the deadly strife in the mining industry, the upsurge in unprotected strikes in other sectors of the economy and downgrades by influential ratings agencies.

It was one of the biggest heavyweight gatherings of economic decision makers in democratic South Africa. There was a sense of crisis.

The parties emerged from that summit with an “action package” that included a variety of economic stimuli and job-creation measures. It also included measures to deal with social pressures that were fuelling working class ferment, such as poverty and inequality.

The biggest resolution from this powwow was a proposal for a salary and bonus freeze among the highest-paid South Africans in the public and private sectors as a strong signal of a commitment to build an equitable economy.

Zuma was bullish, saying the participants had emerged “with one voice, one message and strong confidence in our capacity as a society to address the immediate challenges we face”.

Business Unity SA president Jabu Mabuza trumpeted the measure by saying “it is wrong that while people are dying for R12?500 a month, there are displays of obscene wealth”. That was 20 months ago.

Since then, company boards have given executives generous increases and massive bonuses. Parastatal bosses have raked in millions in pay and bonuses. Zuma has approved 5% salary increases for office bearers, backdated to April last year.

Only he declined to take an increase on his R2.6?million salary. So, in essence, it has been business as usual at the top.

How odd then that workers, whose wage expectations have been called unreasonable, are the only ones being told their demands are “harming the economy” and lowering the country’s credit rating.

Workers cannot solely be expected to modify their demands when bosses still take home millions in pay, bonuses and shares. Government leaders also have to find better ways to defuse the tension between business and labour if the economy is to be rescued from the fire.

Workers cannot be the only ones expected to play their part. Everyone has to come to the party.

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