13 February 2013

South Africa: Cosatu's Expectations From the Sona

Photo: GCIS
Preparing for South Africa's State of Nation Address

The Congress of South African Trade Unions is looking forward expectantly to President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 14 February 2013.

COSATU expects that the president will base his address on the five policy priorities defined in the 2009 Election Manifesto and report on progress in each of them:

Creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods;

* Education;

* Health;

* Crime and corruption;

* Rural development, including land reform, and food production and security.

On decent work we hope to hear that progress is being made on the decent work agenda, particularly in the light of last week’s grim figures from Statistics SA on employment.

They revealed that 68,000 jobs disappeared from the South African economy in the fourth quarter of 2012, despite the fact that the unemployment rate declined slightly - to 24.9% of the labour force in the fourth quarter, from 25.5% in the previous quarter, while the expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people who have stopped looking for work, fell to 35.9% in the fourth quarter, from 36.3% in the third.

This apparent contradiction arises because of a drop in the total labour force of 235 000 persons between the third and fourth quarters of 2012, a decrease of 166 000 unemployed persons and 68 000 employed persons, which implies that there is a worrying rise in the number of workers who are simply opting out of the economy and becoming marginalised.

This confirms the structural nature of our triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, which requires bold developmental policies to restructure the economy we inherited from colonialism and apartheid.

South Africa is waiting to hear from the President how his firm commitment to make decent job creation a top priority will be converted into new jobs on the ground. The federation also looks forward to hearing that strong action is to be taken on improving the quality of work. Far too many jobs have been casualised and we have still not ended the scourge of labour broking. It must be completely banned

In the light of the recent revolt among the farm workers, we look forward to hearing that the government will review the minimum wages of all those vulnerable workers covered by sectoral determinations and increase their wages by a similar percentage to the 51% given to the farm workers.

Further government should engage on a national wage policy, aimed to eliminate poverty wages and systematically reduce excessive income inequality. The government’s New Growth Path (NGP) recognised wages policy as a critical instrument in reducing the apartheid wage gap. We need to know what the government is doing to give effect to this.

We also want to be reassured that the capacity of the Department of Labour inspectors is being improved and expanded, and that adequate resources will be allocated in the 2013 budget, so that the sectoral determinations minimum wages, as well as other fundamental worker rights, are more effectively monitored and defaulting employers brought to book.

In order to create a sufficient number of sustainable new jobs, the government will need to show that it is forging ahead with practical implementation and adequate resourcing of the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) and the Infrastructure Development Plan announced in last year’s SONA, and ensure that all levers and institutions of state, including local procurement, and investment by state entities, are used to maximise employment and diversify the economy.

The President will also, we hope, clarify how the government will implement state-led economic interventions such as the NGP, IPAP and the infrastructure programme; at the same time as the National Development Plan (NDP), given the contradictions between these approaches, and in particular the sections of the NDP which advocate a market-driven macroeconomic, industrial and labour market policy which threatens to take us back to the ruinous neoliberal economic policies of GEAR in the late 1990s.

COSATU expects news on the practical implementation of the Local Procurement Accord and other measure to protect and promote South African manufacturing industry.

The President will be expected to report on plans to transform our crisis-ridden, two-tier education system. The improved 2012 matric results mask the appalling statistic that last year’s matriculants constituted only 45% of the pupils who originally enrolled in Grade 1.

Our big challenge, which the Basic Education Accord deals with, is how to keep the 55% who drop out in school until to Grade 12 and equip them with the skills and qualifications which they, and society, need.

One area where we expect good news is the National Health Insurance scheme, one of the government’s finest initiatives, which should now be starting to roll out and build the foundations of a universal healthcare service which is delivered regardless of people’s income.

As we mark the centenary of the 1913 Native Lands Act, the recent crisis on the farms has brought home the lack of progress in transforming the lives of our rural communities, which remain neglected and poor. This must be an urgent priority not only for the sake of the poor communities in these areas but to guarantee food security for the whole country.

Finally on corruption and crime, COSATU expects an uncompromising stance from government to support the investigations by the Auditor-General, Public Protector, SIU, CorruptionWatch and others into the ongoing revelations and allegations of corruption, fraud, wasteful expenditure and misuse of public funds, and to promise firm action against any public officials or private proved to have been stealing from the people of South Africa.

In the aftermath of the outrageous rape, mutilation and murder of Anene Booysen, and all the other despicable acts of violence being perpetrated against women and children, we insist that the president must announce tough new measure to stop these crimes and arrest and punish the offenders.

The promise to reintroduce the special courts for sexual offences is a welcome step but far more needs to be done by government and society to rid the country of such monstrous crimes.

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