Cosatu tries to arm-wrestle Godongwana following lukewarm strike

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Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana.
  • Following a one-day nationwide strike, Cosatu challenged government to abandon what it called austere fiscal management.
  • It accused National Treasury of being behind a campaign to keep public service wage increases at low levels.
  • Cosatu also called on Treasury to expedite interventions to help financially distressed workers gain limited access to their pension funds.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which on Thursday staged a one-day nationwide strike, challenged Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana to steer National Treasury away from what it called an austere approach to fiscal management when he tables his medium-term budget policy statement in Parliament in November.

The labour federation, which is a political ally to the governing ANC, received in-principal support from its members for the strike and held marches around the country.

But while Cosatu may have fancied Thursday's strike as a show of force, Bloomberg reports that members of the National Employers Association of South Africa said that the vast majority of workers ignored the call to down tools.

Earlier this year, Cosatu-allied unions failed to get their desired increases at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council as well as the South African Local Government Bargaining Council. This has further chilled tensions in the tripartite alliance ahead of the local government polls.

In a statement, Cosatu called on government to move away from an "austerity-led" response to the country's economic crisis and focus on stimulating economic growth, creating jobs and addressing corruption.

It accused National Treasury of being behind a campaign to keep public service wage increases at low levels.

"Treasury's attempt to impose a wage freeze in the public service, local government and SOEs threatens the survival of collective bargaining. Employers in the private sector have sought to copy this and abandon signed wage agreements," said the statement.

The labour federation said workers at state-owned enterprises such as SAA, SA Express, Denel and the SABC have lost wages and jobs, while workers at dysfunctional municipalities have also not been paid.

"Millions of workers have lost wages, pensions and benefits during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Workers in the public sector too have felt great hardship with no wage increase in 2020 and government seeking to impose a further wage freeze in 2022 and 2023," the statement said.

The federation slammed government over the "continuous failures" at the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), specifically delays in Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) payments.

"Similar delays in paying normal UIF, maternity and parental leave owed to workers must be addressed as well," the statement said.

Cosatu also called on National Treasury to expedite legislation and interventions to help financially distressed workers gain limited access to their pension funds.

"A bill providing for this must be tabled with the medium-term budget policy statement due in Parliament on 4 November 2021. Government must extend the R350 Covid-19 Special Relief Dispensation Grant beyond March 2022.

"It must be made permanent and increased to the food poverty line. It must be paid electronically to its recipients to end the long queues at post offices. reckless austerity budget cuts must be reversed," the statement said.

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