Major strike in South Africa today – everything you need to know

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will embark on a nationwide stay away on Wednesday (7 October).

Cosatu has asked its more than 1.8 million members and other workers around the country to stay at home in support of the action due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are convening this action under the Covid-19 lockdown alert level one regulations. This means that we have a responsibility not to undermine the fight against this deadly coronavirus that has killed so many of our compatriots,” the trade federation said in a statement on Monday.

Cosatu said that it will also convene socially distanced pickets and motorcades across all the nine provinces, and in many identified towns and cities.

“This decentralisation of our activities will ensure that workers are involved and are all able to participate in all over the country but also that our activities do not spread this deadly virus,” it said.

In a series of messages on social media, Cosatu said that it will be assembling in various parts of the country from 08h00.

Some of the meeting points and routes include:

  • Deputy general secretary Solly Phetoe will lead the strike in the North West from Rustenburg Taxi Rank, where workers will gather and march to the Municipality from 09h00;
  • General secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali will lead a march in Limpopo, with workers assembling at SABC Park and marching to the Department of Labour from 08h00;
  • President Zingiwa Losi will lead the strike in Pretoria from Burgerspark from 08h00, with a motorcade leading to the National Treasury offices;
  • National treasurer Freda Oosthysen will lead the strike in Cape Town with workers gathering at Langa Multipurpose Sport Centre from 07h00 and a motorcade departing to the City Centre;
  • Deputy president Louise Thipe will lead the strike in Durban with workers gathering from 08h00 at Curries Fountain and proceeding to a park at St. Benedicts school;
  • Deputy president Mike Shingange will lead the strike in in Mbombela, Mpumalanga with workers gathering from 08h00 at Mbombela Stadium.

The issues raised by Cosatu for the strike include:

  • A lack of Personal Protective Equipment for frontline workers;
  • An emphasis on the failure of the public transport system;
  • The undermining of collective bargaining in the public service by the state;
  • The general inefficiency of the state;
  • The scourge of corruption in South Africa;
  • The loss of some R80 billion annually through transfer pricing manipulation;
  • The looting of the Covid-19 UIF TERS Fund by employers;
  • Mismanaged and now cash strapped or bankrupt SOE’s;
  • The maximum penalty threshold which can be imposed by the Competition Commission is inadequate;
  • Continued cartel conduct;
  • The amendment to the Competition Act 89 of 1998 was meant to provide for directors and managers to be criminally prosecuted, but thus far there have been no prosecutions; and
  • Families of politicians should be barred from doing business with the state.

While the protest action was called for by Cosatu, it is also endorsed by the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) and the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu), which are all represented at Nedlac.

Breakaway federation Saftu (the South African Federation of Trade Unions) is not part of Nedlac, but will also participate in Wednesday’s stay away.


No work, no pay

In response to the stay away, the government has instructed all departments to enforce the principle of ‘no work, no pay’.

The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) said that the strike has been declared protected under Section  77 of the Labour Relations Act and that workers in all sectors of the economy are allowed to participate.

“The principle of no work, no way must be applied by the departments,” it said. “The principle should apply for absence of a full day as well as part of a working day.”

The DPSA has also instructed its department to provide information on:

  • The number of employees participating in the protest action and the impact on the department at 10h00;
  • An update on this information at 15h00;
  • A comprehensive report within three days of the strike action.


Legal standing

In an analysis of the strike, law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said that section 77 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) affords employees the right to engage in ‘protest action to promote or defend socio-economic interests of workers’.

In addition, Section 77(1) of the LRA provides for procedural requirements that must be adhered to by trade unions when embarking on a protest in terms of the section. These requirements are:

  • The protest must be called by a registered trade union or federation of trade unions;
  • The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) must be provided with a notice of the proposed protest stating the nature and purpose thereof;
  • The matter giving rise to the proposed protest must then be considered by Nedlac or an appropriate forum;
  • The trade union must provide NEDLAC with a notice of its intention to proceed with the proposed protest action 14 days prior to the commencement of same.

“As the protest action is authorised in terms of section 77(2) of the LRA, persons who engage in the protest action are afforded protection under the LRA, including the protection against dismissal for participating in the protest action,” Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said.

“The practical effect of the nationwide protest action on employers is that their workforce may participate in the protest action or employees may be unable to attend work due to the non-availability of public transport.”

The firm said that the action also comes at a time where many businesses have only recently recommenced operations after the national state of disaster was announced in March 2020 and which continues.

“Businesses are therefore in a precarious position as they cannot prevent employees from participating in the protest action but also cannot afford to have their employees away from work whilst seeking to at least recover some of the financial losses suffered as a result of the pandemic.”


The rand

The rand is on the back foot ahead of strike action, said Bianca Botes, executive director at Peregrine Treasury Solutions.

“The dollar gained some ground overnight after president Trump postponed talks for additional economic stimulus until post the election,” she said.

“Locally, a nationwide strike is due to take place today, as labour unions join forces to protest unemployment and corruption, amongst other issues.”

At 07h20 on Wednesday the rand was trading at the following levels:

  • Dollar/Rand: R16.63 (-0.58%)
  • Pound/Rand: R21.43  (-0.50%)
  • Euro/Rand: R19.51  (-0.61%)

Additional commentary by Imraan Mahomed, Riola Kok and Nomathole Nhlapo of the Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Employment Law practice.


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Major strike in South Africa today – everything you need to know