Labour Wrap: Pensions - a trigger for militancy

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PROCRASTINATION, time wasting and fobbing off questions is what people in authority often resort to when they don’t want to face up to reality or answer difficult questions, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap. And this past week, he notes, has provided several excellent examples in the fiasco surrounding the so-called JZ transition. 

He goes on to point out that there was another case of the same process under way at the same time. It involved the finance ministry and minister Malusi Gigaba where legitimate requests for information - for accountability and transparency - continued to be dodged.  

Asking the questions was the Public Servants Association (PSA), one of the largest unions in the land. Ever since September last year, Bell says the union submitted requests to the minister to provide “full disclosure” about appointments to the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) board on which the union also wants worker representation. 

He notes that the PIC, a state entity, manages the nearly R2trn in pension money for, mainly, the Government Employee Pension Fund. It is the largest pension fund in Africa and there are union fears that there may have been political interference in investment decisions. 

After months of effectively being ignored, the PSA last week announced that it was taking the matter to court.  Within hours Gigaba, as the sole shareholder of the PIC, agreed to a meeting scheduled for Monday this week.

Bell adds that this meeting was then cancelled and another date, March 2, suggested. The PSA agreed, but went ahead with the legal action, “because we don’t know if it will happen”.

He says there is considerable anger among government employees and pensioners, and that this is understandable. It is probably true that the easiest way for a government or private sector employer to pick a fight with workers is to be seen to interfere with pensions.

Even workers not renowned for militancy can be stirred into action when their pensions are threatened. A classic example, says Bell, is the rolling mass action strike scheduled to start at 61 British universities next Thursday.

It is a lesson, he feels, governments everywhere would do well to heed.

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