Vavi: Why we are marching
Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary’s, address to the National Press Club, CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria
6 March 2012
Mr Yusuf Abramjee
Members of this press club
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present our side of the
argument to this august gathering of those who inform the opinion of
millions of our people.
I have been asked to essentially answer a question – why we are marching in March?
We are marching against the labour brokering system and for the total scrapping of the inner-city e-tollgate system.
Our campaign against both labour brokering and inner-city e-tollgates
is part and parcel of the war we are waging to salvage the working
class from a further assault on its living standards.
Despite the political and social gains scored since 1994, the working
class in this country continues to reel under the pressure of
neoliberalism and the legacy of apartheid/colonialism. Poverty,
unemployment and inequality are the three principal challenges facing
the working class in the current period.
We recognise the major advances our country has registered under the
ANC government. This includes delivery of basic needs, which has meant
millions having access to housing, water, electricity, education,
However, most of these gains have been undermined by the slow pace of
transformation in the economy, as well as the rampant commodification
pursued through privatisation and other neoliberal programmes including
the user-pay principle.
Today South Africa takes the first prize in terms of being the most
unequal society in the world. The richest decile is earning about 94
times more than the poorest decile. Africans, who constitute 79, 4% of
the population, account for 41, 2% of the household income from work and
social grants, whereas whites, who account only for 9, 2% of the
population, receive 45, 3% of income. The poorest 10% of the population
share R1, 1 billion whilst the riches 10% share R381 billion. Our
country is trapped in a developmental paradigm that has simply
reproduced these conditions for 18 years now.
In terms of the expanded definition unemployment is currently at
35.4%. Income inequality in South Africa is the highest in the world
and half of our population survives on 8% of the national income while
the other half enjoys 92%. In 2007 approximately 71% of African
female-headed households earned less than R800 a month and 59% of these
in fact had no income, while 58% of African male-headed households
earned less than R800 with 48% with no income. The educational profile
of the unemployed reflects that over 60% of the unemployed have not
completed matric level education.
One of the foremost indicators of the inequality characterising or
society is unemployment, which discriminates according to race, gender
and geographical location. Almost 25% of South African household
experience hunger on a daily basis. An average member of a working class
household lives on R18 a day, but many actually live on less; 6 million
workers, 44%, live on less than R10 a day.
The rate of exploitation is increasing and business is raking even
more profits than ever. Atypical forms of employment have increased
tremendously with 30% of the work force being casualised.
Labour brokers are the main drivers of the casualisation of labour.
Their practices are the absolute contradiction to the principle of
decent work. They have driven down workers’ wages and conditions of
employment. They do not create any jobs but sponge off the labour of
others and replace secure jobs with temporary and casual forms of
The National Association of Bargaining Councils (NABC) suggests that
there are 979, 539 labour broker workers in the country, significantly
larger than suggested thus far.
Whilst most workers under labour brokers take home a pittance as a salary, their bosses reward themselves with millions.
Whitey Basson CEO of Shoprite earned the highest-ever monthly
earnings ever recorded in a single year in 2010 – an unbelievable
R627.53 million in salary, perks and share options. This contrasts
sharply with the situation of many workers at Shoprite who take home
peanuts on payday. Shoprite is but one example of a company that makes
extensive use of labour brokers.
Shoprite Checkers have a staff compliment of about 73 000, of which
35% are full time with 5% being what is termed 40-hour
full-timers/flexitimers and 60% comprised of various categories of
variable time employees or casuals. Expansion or growth of Shoprite
Checkers does not translate into employment growth but increases the
intake of workers supplied by labour brokers.
At Pick n Pay there are 36 538 workers, of which 16 000 are full-time
with almost 20 000 being varies categories of variable time employees
or casuals supplied by the labour brokers. At Woolworths it is estimated
that there is a ratio of 70% casuals to only 30% so-called permanent
workers. In smaller retail companies the situation is much more dire.
To make this situation even worse, the face of casualisation is
predominantly the black working class youth that is employed by labour
brokers. The industry is an exploitative businesses designed to
circumvent labour laws and regulations.
We demand a total ban of the labour brokers, a system we have described as human trafficking and modern day slavery.
COSATU notes the proposals made by government which include the following elements:
- Limiting usage of labour brokers to temporary work not exceeding
six months or to situations where employees work as substitutes, or in
categories of work determined by the Minister of Labour in consultation
- Immediate application of the principle of joint and
several liability where the employee could cite both the client and the
labour broker in CCMA and/or Labour Court proceedings;
- Application of the principle of equal pay for work of similar
value to employees of labour brokers, in relation to employees of the
- Amending Section 21 of the LRA to consider the extent of
engagement of employees in atypical forms of employment in determining
We also note that Business seeks to dilute these proposals,
especially the application of the principle of equal pay for work of
equal value and have proposed 18 months as duration for temporary work.
COSATU and NACTU are still adamant that one day under a labour broker is
one day too long!
Why Labour Brokers must be banned?
- 1. Labour brokering is equivalent to the trading of human
beings as commodities. Generally the main commercial contract is agreed
to bcontracts associated with labour brokering and other forms of
COSATU and NACTU also reject the following exclusions, proposed by
government and supported by business, from protections for employees in
fixed term contracts:
Businesses that employ less than 10 employees and which employ less than 50 and have
- between the labour broker and the so-called “client” enterprise,
which sets out the various stipulated labour services to be supplied and
the price at which these services are to be supplied, whereas the true
suppliers of labour (namely the workers) are excluded from this process,
thereby undermining their rights to negotiate their wage and employment
terms. The Constitution of South Africa guarantees a right to fair
labour standards and the right to collective bargaining. The practise of
labour brokering tramples both of these Constitutional protections of
- Labour Brokers do not create jobs but merely act as intermediaries
to access jobs that already exist, and which in many cases would have
existed previously as permanent full time jobs
- Labour Brokers destroy permanent jobs as they lead to insecure
contractual relations and downgrading of wages and employment terms
- Labour Brokers do not practise the principle of equal pay for
work of equal value. Workers employed by the Labour Brokers work longer
hours without any compensation, they work Monday-to-Monday and 365 days
without any compensation for working on Sundays and public holidays.
- Apart from undermining collective bargaining rights, labour
brokers also provide scab labour and therefore serve as strike breakers!
- Labour brokering, combined with other forms of atypical work,
reflects the current trends of the intensification of the rate of
exploitation of workers.
- Significant emphasis is placed on the commercial rationale of
using labour brokers to lower costs for clients, which is commonly
achieved by reducing wages and excluding employment benefits.
- Labour brokering allows employers to evade their obligations
as stipulated in the LRA. This is tantamount to outsourcing labour
relations to a third party.
- Workers under labour brokers are unable to enforce their rights
against any party that may be identified legally as the employer. In
cases where this may be imposed against the labour broker agency, its
precarious financial standing, especially in cases on insolvency,
renders workers’ rights of enforcement as merely notional.
- Increased regulation of the industry will not work because
capacity constraints within the Department of Labour to enforce existing
legislation and a ban against labour brokers may be administratively
simpler than detailed regulation, thereby simplifying enforcement.
- Most of the workers employed by the labour brokers do not enjoy
pension/provident funds, medical aid benefits, etc. The employers dump
these workers into the government social security system, thereby
increasing the state burden to provide for them in their pension life.
This means the taxpayers are subsidising the employers to make super
- Labour broker are also anti-trade unions because ‘their’ workers
are constantly being moved around from one workplace to another within
short periods, often with no access to union officials or the
possibility of stop-order deductions for union subscriptions, they find
it very hard to join a union or to remain members.
- Labour brokers contribute to the progressive de-skilling of
workers, especially as a result of the short-term and irregular nature
of the contracts associated with labour brokering and other forms of
- Employees who are engaged on official public works schemes or similar public job creation schemes.
Labour also disagrees with the proposal by government and business
proposal to exclude part-time employees from labour law protections
during the first six months of their employment.
Open Road Tolling
We wish to convey also our total opposition to the introduction of
open road tolling in Gauteng and the planned introduction of the same in
other parts of the country including Durban and Cape Town amongst
others, for the following reasons:-
- First and foremost, the tolls will add to the burdens of the
poor of Gauteng and our country broadly, who will be forced to pay for
travelling on the tolled roads.
The tolls will also put an indirect burden on the poor of the whole
of South Africa, by adding to the cost of transporting goods within and
to and from our industrial heartland. It will have an immediate effect
on food inflation.
It is quite clear that if the tolling goes ahead, it will be extended
to urban areas in other Provinces, spreading the pressures on the poor.
It is not true that the poor are not users of our motorways. Many low
income earners in our country use private cars to travel to work,
precisely because our public transport system is so unreliable. Public
transport is also unavailable during outside of peak commuter hours,
including weekends, when Gauteng residents travel distances across the
Province to visit friends, attend funerals, etc.
Our second objection is that the tolls will perpetuate exclusion
We already live in a society highly divided by income disparities.
The poorest 10% of the population shares R1.1bn whilst the richest 10%
The logic of those who say that the poor do not use our motorways,
except by public transport, is that they should be permanently excluded
from access to the best roads. They must find the potholed side-roads to
get from A to B, while the rich glide along in their fancy cars.
The toll roads are therefore a reminder of the divisions that still
exist in access to basic services. Good health and education services
currently belong to the wealthier sections of society, who can afford to
pay. We do not want yet another addition to the list such divided
services, especially in the context where good progress is being made in
the health sector, to bring about one universal service.
Our third objection is that public transport is totally inadequate.
We acknowledge that government has now exempted registered public
transport vehicles from the tolls. However, the fact is that public
transport remains woefully inadequate both in quality and in the numbers
of people that it serves.
A third of our people use private cars to get to and from work. This
is not a free choice. It is because our public transport system is
expensive, unsafe, and unreliable.
The promise of massive investment in our overcrowded, run-down
commuter rail services is good news, but this will take years to come on
stream. So where are the new bus services? Apart from the BRTs in
Joburg and Cape Town, not a single new subsidised bus route has been put
in place for over ten years! And where is the enforcement of safe
conditions in the taxi industry?
The use of our motorways by private cars is therefore not a luxury
for most users. If the users are forced off the motorways because of
cost, they will not transfer to non-existent reliable public transport.
They will take their cars onto the side roads, and create levels of
congestion that our municipalities will not be able to cope with.
Traffic management will become a nightmare, and it is highly likely that
our already shocking road fatality statistics will rise.
Finally, the tolls represent a form of privatisation, which we have always been opposed to
COSATU has an unwavering record of being opposed to privatisation,
and the introduction of a tolling system that brings in the private
sector to operate the tolled roads is, in our view, nothing else but
What makes it worse is that the contracts signed with the toll
operators remain a secret. All the evidence indicates that the revenues
from the tolls are going to be enormous and that the loans will be paid
off quickly, leaving the private operator to milk the public.
This is why we have consistently argued that the fiscus must be
directly involved in the funding of road infrastructure. If additional
revenues have to be raised by government, then this must be done in a
way where the burden is fairly shared through a progressive tax system.
We pay taxes so that government can build and maintain roads, hospitals,
In the meantime, we are convinced that if more effort were put into
stopping fraud and corruption, then the money would be easily available
to cover the costs of road construction and maintenance.
For all of the above reasons, we demand the dismantling of the
Gauteng motorway gantries, and the immediate halting, for good, of the
Gauteng open tolls.