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Cosatu: Statement by Patrick Craven, Congress of South African Trade Unions, on the Democratic Alliance (14/11/2010)

14th November 2010

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The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is not surprised at Premier Zille's latest attack on our federation and her support for poverty wages. After all she represents the Democratic Alliance (DA) which is a party for the bosses, not for workers.

COSATU has for years cautioned its members that if ever the DA comes to power, they would introduce policies which will cut workers' wages and strip workers' rights.

Zille's caution that the government will never emulate the levels of growth shown by countries like China, unless they stand up to COSATU, simply re-confirms that the DA's vision of a growth path for the South Africa economy is based on an attack on workers' wages and rights.

This is the same party which, in their last two national election manifestos, have promised attacks on workers' wages and conditions of employment.

Their 2004 election manifesto called for a second-tier of workers whose wages would be set at a level equivalent to the state old-age pension. What is that but poverty pay?

Their 2009 manifesto called for a six-month probationary period during which employers will face no punitive penalty for dismissing under-performing workers.

Inevitably this would lead to young workers being taken on for six months on poverty wages only to be fired and replaced by another lot of young workers. How is this solving the problem of unemployment? COSATU will not support any national youth wage subsidy whose aim is to boost he dwindling profits of ailing enterprises under the cloak of saving jobs or avoiding retrenchments.

Now the DA wants government to allow firms to obtain partial labour law exemptions by creating export processing zones in which firms are granted exemptions from certain taxes and labour laws in order to produce cheap goods exclusively for export.

Zille seems to suggest that the ANC government should follow the Chinese growth path for the clothing industry. For decades, workers in China have been paid starvation wages and worked under sweatshop conditions. That is why we are also not surprised at Premier Zille and the DA's very vocal support for the starvation wage levels paid to clothing workers in Newcastle, by the Newcastle Chinese Chamber of Commerce (NCCC) employers.

Clothing sector member companies of the NCCC paid machinists a weekly wage of between R180 and R280, while the legal starting minimum wage for a qualified machinist was already as low as R479.10 per week, as inspections by the clothing industry bargaining council showed earlier this year.

The wages paid to Newcastle clothing workers are the types of poverty wage levels that clothing and other workers in the Western Cape and elsewhere can expect under a DA government.

COSATU salutes its 55 000 clothing members who embarked on successful strike action for 3 weeks last year, to resist this brutal attempt to cut their wages and slash their working conditions. We also salute our other members in other sectors who have engaged in similar struggles. We call on all our members and workers in general to remain vigilant, to mobilise to defend workers' rights, to advance our quest for a decent work growth path and to resist the increasingly vocal attempts to cut workers' wage levels.

There are more examples which show that the DA does not care about workers and the poor. Workers can expect more insults such as the recent ‘open toilet saga' and the brutal attacks on Hangklip residents in Cape Town, in areas where the DA holds political power.

The illusion that structural problems of unemployment can be remedied by waving a magic wand to deregulate the labour market is justified by neither historical facts nor contemporary experience.

Unemployment is not caused by the high cost of labour, nor trade unions, nor low labour productivity, nor inadequate skills of the workforce but the nature of our industrial structure. It is still over-dependent on the export of raw materials, and the failure to develop manufacturing industry.

It is also a consequence of the low level of demand for goods and services, reflecting the lack of spending power by the majority of South Africans, as a result of high levels of unemployment and - low wages.

A new growth path for South Africa cannot be based on reducing demand even further by poverty wages, nor by an attack on workers' rights, as is being advocated by Premier Zille and the DA. Such a race to the bottom is not an option.

A new growth path must be based on decent work. This is the mandate from Polokwane and this is what workers expect the ANC-led government to implement.

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