‘Guardian angels’ win wage wars for workers

2011-04-30 17:26

 Organised labour will commemorate May Day today emboldened by the gains of the previous year, thanks largely to the above-inflation salary hikes they managed to negotiate.

Labour economist Mike Schussler said the average of 10.1% wage hikes when inflation stood at 4% had boosted the image of unions.

“The unions achieved quite a high pay rise in 2010 and this increased the confidence of the members,” he said.

He warned unions to stop pushing for higher wages as this would make it harder for the unemployed to enter the labour market. He said the recession has made many people more worried about their job security and unions were being seen as guardian angels that offer protection only to workers.

The confidence of labour could also be seen in labour action, especially in the public sector. The South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) is pressing ahead with its plans to hold a national strike five days before the country votes in the local government election, despite criticism from the ruling ANC.

Samwu secretary-general Mthandeki Nhlapho said the union would go ahead with the strike action on May 13 to protect the interests of its workers.

He said the union prioritised its workers’ demands and did not intend to frustrate the ANC’s election programme.

Wits University academic Professor Chris Malekane said the unions were emboldened because they had led the drive to influence social policy reforms.

Malekane said: “The unions were instrumental in pushing for no-fee schools, for third-year university students not to be excluded on financial grounds and the expansion of further education and training institutions to increase admission to one million people per annum in 2014 from 400 000.”

He said labour had played a major role in ensuring that the issue of labour brokers was put on the national agenda.

Labour analyst Professor Andries Bezuidenhout said: “The fact that the government is now using jobs instead of the number of sectors created to measure its success, shows that the state is taking labour more seriously.”

He said labour’s strength became more evident when the government pumped billions of rands into the industrial development plan that is spear-headed by the economic development department.

Bezuidenhout was concerned that though Cosatu was growing in the public sector, the labour federation did not have programmes that would suit the needs of white-collar workers in the private sector, who were more interested in legal representation than in wage negotiations.

“The major challenge now for the unions is to organise workers who are casualised and those who are represented by labour brokers,” Bezuidenhout said.

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