5 biggest changes to the SA labour landscape since Workers' Day 2017


Johannesburg - Millions of employees around the world will celebrate International Workers' Day on May 1.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has events planned around the country for the day and the main rally will be held in Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape, where President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to deliver the keynote address.

Rival labour organisation the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has planned its main rally in Bloemfontein.

Workers' Day - May Day or Labour Day as it is sometimes known - has a long history of struggle, both internationally and in SA. In 1884, unions in the US and Canada resolved that eight hours should constitute a full day’s labour, effective from 1 May 1886. Since then May Day has been celebrated on 1 May annually, but it is not a public holiday in all countries.

The 100th anniversary of May Day fell on 1 May 1986 and Cosatu, formed just a few months earlier in Durban in December 1985, resolved that the day should be a public holiday and it called for a mass stay away.

More than 1.5 million workers heeded Cosatu’s call and they were joined by thousands of school pupils, university students, taxi drivers and hawkers.

Over the past week trade unions have been flexing their muscles. A bus strike over wages affected public transport, there was a one-day stay away by Saftu over the national minimum wage and changes to the labour laws, and industrial action in the North West crippled the provincial health system.

Fin24 takes a look at some of the changes which affected the labour landscape since 1 May 2017:

President Cyril Ramaphosa takes over the top job

President Cyril Ramaphosa launches the Youth Emplo

On Workers' Day 2017, President Jacob Zuma was prevented from speaking by a heckling crowd at Cosatu’s rally in Bloemfontein.

All trade unions were unanimous in their dislike of Zuma and, while Saftu objects to the national minimum wage, the former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers is seen as a sympathetic ear for labour and a dedicated principal at the National Economic Development and Labour Council.

National minimum wage close to being implemented

SA’s inaugural national minimum wage was set to become effective on Workers' Day 2018, but due to parliamentary processes and further consultation, this has been postponed.

The deal, which was signed between business, government, labour and the community sector in February 2017 took two years of protracted negotiations at Nedlac and will see a R20 per hour rate, equivalent to a R3 500 monthly threshold.

While Saftu objects to these figures, calling them “poverty” or "slave” wages, the three other federations inside Nedlac insist that more than 40% of workers who currently earn below this will have their salaries improved by the legislated basic salary.

Cosatu expects the Department of Labour to send the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Bill and amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) back the National Assembly in mid-May and to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) by the end of June.

They will then await Ramaphosa’s signatures for it to become law.

Labour Relations Act changes

Trade union federation Saftu marched in Cape Town

Changes to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) are another reason Saftu took to the streets, claiming that the changes will limit the right to strike and make it more difficult and expensive for union members to down tools.

The proposed amendments will see unions required to hold a secret ballot before embarking on strike action.

The other major change is the introduction of an advisory arbitration panel which would allow the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to intervene in strikes which are deemed as violent or damaging to the economy.

However, Cosatu has defended the amendments saying these rules were always in place but never enforced. It sees the new bill as empowering the labour minister to extend collective agreements to non-unionised and causal workers if parties are sufficiently representative of a workplace or sector. It feels this will help unions in the private sector which battle to reach 51% due to labour broking growth.

The amendments to the LRA are expected to follow a similar timeline to the NMW Bill and BCEA and be passed by the National Assembly mid-May and NCOP by the end of June.

Paternity leave close to being implemented

A paternal leave form

The Unemployment Insurance (UIF) Amendment Act was signed into law by then President Jacob Zuma in January 2017, but due to a typing error, had to undergo the entire parliamentary process again.

The amendments provide for 10 days of paternity leave for a father or same sex parent not covered by maternity leave. There is currently no provision for paternity leave and fathers/non-birth giving mothers have had to make do with the three days of annual family responsibility leave when their children were born.

The UIF amendment bill also provides 10 weeks of adoption leave for one parent when adopting a child under two years old. The other parent will qualify for 10 days of parental leave.

Other changes include an increase in UIF benefits from 238 to 365 days and a hike in maternity leave benefits to 66%.

Cosatu expects the NCOP to process the amendments to the UIF Act by the end of June and Ramaphosa to sign them into law by October.

Job losses

The last 12 months saw thousands of job losses, with the mining industry particularly affected. Sibanye-Stillwater [JSE:SGL] retrenched close to 7 000 people (some of whom took voluntary severance packages). Anglo Gold Ashanti [JSE:ANG] warned of 4 000 job cuts, while Lonmin [JSE:LON], which is being sold to Sibanye-Stillwater, will cut 12 000 jobs in the next three years.

A report by investment bank JPMorgan Cazenov predicts massive job losses and the cutting of hundreds of thousands of platinum ounces as the sector struggles with profitability and low commodity prices.

The official unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2017 was 26.7%, while formal sector employment declined by 135 000 and informal sector employment increased by 119 000, from the previous three months.

Ramaphosa has promised to hold a jobs summit in August 2018 to address the stubbornly high unemployment rate.

* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
What potential restrictions on unvaccinated South Africans may make the biggest difference to public health, the economy?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Limited access to restaurants and bars
11% - 138 votes
Limited access to shopping centres
15% - 180 votes
Limited access to live events, including sport matches and festivals
26% - 328 votes
Workplace vaccine mandates
48% - 593 votes