What to expect from Thursday’s major strike action in South Africa

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will embark on mass strike action on Thursday (7 October) as part of an ongoing dispute with the government, primarily over wages.

The trade federation has asked its members to either join one of its planned activities across the country or withdraw their labour by staying at home on the day.

Cosatu is the largest trade federation in the country, with an estimated membership of 1.8 million workers. “The strike on Thursday is legally protected and is focused on pushing both government and the private sector to act to fix the economic mess that the country finds itself in, and take seriously the issues that are affecting workers and South Africans in general,” it said.

“We remind workers that this strike is taking place under Covid-19 restrictions, and we urge all our members and the broader society to continue to take precautions. We encourage them to vaccinate because this pandemic can only be defeated through unity and cooperation.”

Cosatu said it will demand urgent action from policymakers in the government and decision-makers in the private sector to stop attacks directed at workers. “Both the public and the private sector have been blatantly undermining collective bargaining,” the union said.

Some of the other demands include:

  • The reversal of budget cuts which have led to a wage freeze in the public service sector, the disintegration of the CCMA, and retrenchments in state-owned companies.
  • Calling on the private sector to abandon its investment strike, which has seen many companies either hoarding or exporting cash out of the country, despite receiving generous incentives to invest back into the economy.
  • The abandonment of austerity measures and budget cuts in the 2022 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) to be presented in November.

What to expect 

Cosatu said that it will convene pickets and marches across all the nine provinces and several major towns and cities.

A complete list of the planned activities and the area where strike action will take place can be found on Cosatu’s website here.

A brief overview of the planned action across South Africa’s major cities is detailed below.

  • Johannesburg: Mary Fitzgerald Square Time at 09h00. At 11h00, a memorandum will be dropped at the premier’s office opposite the square. Protestors will then march to the office of the Minerals Council to submit a memorandum, and then head back to Mary Fitzgerald square.
  • Pietermaritzburg: Marching will begin in Pietermaritzburg at 10h00, from Dales Park to the corner of Boshof Street and Langalibalele Street, targeting the Department of Employment and Treasury offices.
  • Cape Town: A march from Hanover Street in Cape Town to the City of Cape Town office is planned.
  • Nelspruit: Demonstrations will commence in the Nelspruit Show Grounds and proceed with amarch to Riverside Mall.

Employment and labour minister T.W Nxesi meanwhile, has urged all parties to resolve their industrial issues through social dialogue especially in this sensitive period of mass unemployment and retrenchments.

The minister spoke as one of the major employer organisations, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (Seifsa) and the National Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) are held in a deadlock over pay following the end of their wage agreement in June.

Nxesi appealed to all social partners entering the wage negotiations to work through their issues on the table. He said hostility would not solve differences, but instead risks escalating the severe economic and social damages that have been brought about by the Covid-19.

“Our Constitution guarantees the right of association and the protection of worker rights and industrial action. We respect the fact that many people died for us to be able to enjoy these rights. But with the rights come the responsibilities and we would like to urge unions and other worker representatives to exercise this responsibility.

“Cool heads should prevail and the good of the country and our economy should always at the top of mind. After protracted industrial action, we still have to come and sit around the table to resolve our differences but it is not wise or advisable to play a zero-sum game. We are all invested in this country, said minister Nxesi.

This comes in the wake of the latest unemployment figures from Statistics South Africa showing that some 54,000 people lost their jobs in the second quarter of 2021 to 14.9 million. The number of unemployed persons increased by 584,000 to 7.8 million compared to the first quarter of 2021.

The report also showed that discouraged work-seekers increased by 186,000 (5,9%) and these and other changes resulted in the official unemployment rate increasing by 1,8 percentage points from 32,6% in the first quarter of 2021 to 34,4% in the second quarter of 2021 – the highest since the start of the QLFS in 2008, according to StatsSA.

Minister Nxesi said it would be tragic if more people become unemployed when social dialogue would be more fruitful.

Read: South Africa’s average wage is rising – here’s why that might not be a good thing.

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What to expect from Thursday’s major strike action in South Africa