By Reon Janse van Rensburg
According to Gideon du Plessis, General Secretary of Solidarity, Covid-19 led to many negotiating processes about health and safety protocols, as well as the changing of employees’ service conditions at almost all medium and large enterprises.
He mentions that these negotiations were followed by negotiations on dealing with vulnerable employees who cannot work due to underlying illnesses and logistical challenges. Another consequence is retrenchment consultations where jobs are lost due to Covid-19 and previous collective bargaining agreements that were reviewed.
According to Du Plessis these negotiations are complicated for both employees and employers, and during this process faults were noticed in the labour relations system.
Some of these faults include, regulatory exploitation, some trade unions not realising the reality of current circumstances, the capitalist elite fault line and draconic disaster management regulations.
According to Du Plessis there are employers who abuse the regulations on vulnerable employees to reduce their labour force. He mentions that since retrenchment processes are cumbersome and expensive, employers rather opted to retrench vulnerable employees to protect their employees’ lives.
However, there are still employers who follow the troublesome retrenchment route and who uses Covid-19 as the reason for reducing its staff.
“The impact of Covid-19 and the necessity for retrenchments cannot be denied but the pandemic is often abused to cut operational costs.” – Gideon du Plessis, General Secretary of Solidarity.
Du Plessis explains that a good example of this is when he was recently involved with a retrenchment at a company that works with chemicals, and which argued that 28% of the labour force had to be cut for Covid-19 related reasons. However, the retrenchment notice was withdrawn when Solidarity asked for proof.
According to Du Plessis some trade unions do not realise the fragility of the economy and the reasons for cutting costs to ensure the sustainability of employers. He attributes this to an outdated ideology and self-interest which is the driving force for a populist trade union whose decisions will only change when the realisation of reality about the current circumstances takes effect.
“Retrenchments have a lagging effect and as soon as the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF) last Covid-19 TERS benefit have been paid out and employers are forced to start reorganising operations by cutting operational costs and reviewing capital projects the bubble could burst and the work massacre to which economic doomsayers like to refer to, become a reality.”
Capitalist elite fault line
In what can be described as a capitalist elite fault line, a prominent coal company whose operations were never restricted, made a 0% salary increase offer, the day after its excellent half-year results were announced, and a special shareholder dividend was declared. According to Du Plessis such decisions strengthens socialist trade unions in their agenda. He mentions that luckily the company was able to realise the mistake it has made in time.
“It is also unacceptable that Sasol recently started with a retrenchment process and at the same time announced that two of its former chief executive’s, who were fired due to poor performance, received a total of R96 million in compensation in their last year.”
Draconic disaster management regulations
According to Du Plessis the draconic disaster management regulations and the reduced economic activity drove the country to a crisis. He mentions that only when the pressure became unmanageable, the regulations were relaxed but that it was already too late.
According to Du Plessis it is a consequence of the destructive practice of over-regulation of all economic sectors which, together with systemic corruption, is the biggest enemy of job creation.
“Economic repair post Covid-19 can be accelerated, provided the key players in labour relations – trade unions, employers and the government – realise their direct part in these faults and make a mind shift to change these for the good.”