Cosatu slams business view on labour laws

2011-03-19 12:33

Labour federation Cosatu has poured cold water over organised business’s call to government to ­rethink proposed changes to labour legislation, Business Unity SA president Futhi Mtoba told President Jacob Zuma’s business summit on jobs that the mooted changes to the labour law “constituted a full-frontal attack on (business) competitiveness”.

Mtoba told the summit, held at the presidential guest house in Pretoria, that employers were reluctant to hire workers because of the inflexibilities they encountered when they retrenched during recession.

“This inflexibility was manifested by protracted and costly negotiations with the labour unions. Now, with ­recovery in sight, these employers will think much more carefully before ­expanding their workforce again

“The proposed labour law changes are making these employers think doubly as hard – these changes will not promote employment and constitute a full-frontal assault on competitiveness,” Mtoba said.

During the recession the econnomy shed over a million jobs, almost half the number of jobs created between 2004 and 2008 when South Africa experienced sustained growth.

The recession increased the official unemployment rate – which excludes those ­unemployed citizens who are too ­discouraged to seek employment – to 24%.

Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi said Mtoba’s comments constituted a “frontal attack on workers”.

The incomes of chief executives would not have surged and the workers’ share in the gross domestic product would not have plummeted if the labour laws had hurt competitiveness, Vavi said.

“This democracy has been good for Futhi Mtoba and the big business she is fronting for.

“They can’t use the recession to want to win old battles.

“If the labour market was inflexible, how was it possible in 22 months to retrench 1.17-million workers?” asked Vavi.

He said the call for a flexible market was a clamour for “rewinding the clock back to the apartheid” era during which it was easy to summarily fire employees.

Labour is expected to have its jobs indaba with government later in April, but Vavi said they would not discuss ­Busa’s proposal.

The meeting between business and government is part of Zuma’s attempt to involve the private sector in his government’s ambitious bid to create five million jobs by 2020.

The targeted economic sectors are outlined in his government’s recent economic blueprint, the New Growth Path (NGP), and include manufacturing, ­agriculture, and mining.

The captains of industry who attended the summit included mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, Discovery Holdings boss Adrian Gore, BP South Africa CEO Sipho Maseko and Chamber of Mines CEO Bheki Sibiya.

Zuma told the meeting that the strong economic growth from 2004 to 2008 had not created enough jobs.

Zuma said the responsibility of business was to create jobs, while government’s duty was to create ­conditions conducive to growth.

“I am sure we will agree at this forum that our most effective weapon in the campaign against poverty is the creation of decent work, and creating work requires faster economic growth.”

The meeting continued behind closed doors on Friday, but Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said it was not the intention of the government to craft labour laws that would be the “antithesis” of employment creation.

“There are views about that. They will have to be discussed .?.?.? in Parliament.

“We know there are issues business doesn’t agree with government on, and there are issues labour doesn’t agree with government on.

“The focus of the social dialogue is to identify the issues where we have subtstantial agreement,” he said.

He said government had made the point that a leadership team operating under Nedlac had been set up to look at the implementation of the New Growth Path.

This had resulted in companies committing to train beyond their ­individual needs and labour would not regard such trainees as employees, he said Davies said Busa and government had agreed to set up a task team to develop proposals within a month. Those proposals would be submitted to a similar summit later, he said.

“They will come up with a concrete outcome in terms of organisational possibilities to give effect to the idea that there’s an ongoing social dialogue within the framework of Nedlac but at the same time there is a need for apex coordination at the level of a presidential summit,” said Davies.

Busa CEO Jerry Vilakazi said the indaba had agreed that SA had no choice but to create five million jobs to mitigate the social impact of youth unemployment.

He described the discussions as “frank” and “open”, saying they had told government that investment hinged on issues such as regulatory certainty and the labour market.

“There was overall consensus that indeed we need [to move] together towards whatever issues may be blocking us from being globally competitive as we should be as an economy .?.?. that those are removed.”

Vilakazi said while there was ongoing engagement in other platforms, business had always felt there was a need for a coordinated “high-level” engagement at presidential level.

Davies said while there were aspects of the NGP that both business and labour had reservations about, there was consensus on the main thrust of the economic strategy.

“There were no specific commitments made on land reform and labour market reforms. We will have to engage on these issue going ahead,” he said.

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