The successful implementation of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s turnaround plan will make a contribution to job creation and will create opportunity for trade unions to grow their member base.
Unfortunately, trade unions that have a Marxist character, such as the trade union federations Cosatu and Saftu and the metal workers’ union Numsa have reacted negatively to Mboweni’s plan. One would have thought that with their declining numbers and the accompanying financial challenges they are facing they would realise that union growth is possible only through economic growth.
Apart from their general opposition to the plan, Cosatu also feels the plan should have been discussed at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). The fact that Mboweni did not consult with Nedlac about the plan should be a message to Cosatu and all the other Nedlac partners of how irrelevant this institution has become.
As for their opposition to content of the plan, Cosatu and Saftu’s resistance is a sign of their ideological blindness, such as their stubborn opposition to the proposal that small and medium enterprises be exempted from the minimum wage and that collective wage agreements concluded with large companies not be unilaterally expanded to small and medium enterprises .
The proposal to exempt small businesses from the minimum wage and to encourage the employment of unskilled persons and the youth will increase employment (thus creating more potential members for trade unions) and will diffuse a revolt of the poor, the prospect of which is growing in intensity. Realism will only set in when Marxist trade unions see for themselves that when the unemployed have an opportunity to work for a smaller wage, they will seize that opportunity.
As far as the Eskom turnaround plan is concerned, Numsa is threatening with rolling mass action against the plan. The danger is that while we have to focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) critics in trade union ranks clearly don’t realise that if Eskom is not saved soon, that will be the end of even the Second Economic Revolution – that of mass production thanks to electric power – in South Africa.
As far as broader energy planning is concerned Mboweni’s plan proposes the use of independent power generation and that the integrated resource plan does not impose any restriction on policy options to ensure the lowest rates for power.
Again, it is coming up against resistance from the trade unions. What is being overlooked, though, is that especially mineworkers and factory workers are the ones who are currently paying the price for the high electricity tariffs in the form of smaller increases or retrenchment.
The plan also points out that 9,8 million jobs have been created in the renewable energy sector worldwide – why then kick against it in South Africa?
While the Marxist unions are opposed to 4IR initiatives, plans in favour of technology-sophisticated exports form part of Mboweni’s plan. By switching from a low-productivity economy to a high-productivity economy competitiveness can be increased. This means that those employees who improve their skills will earn better salaries.
Moreover, the plan provides opportunities for unions and employers to create a win-win situation at the negotiating table. For background’s sake: The plan encourages growth in the labour-intensive sectors, but there are concerns about wage increases not being linked to increased production. To achieve a win-win situation, an employer could for example justify a low wage offer by linking it to jobs that will be created, and that could also benefit unions if more workers are recruited. Otherwise, an employer granting an above-inflation wage offer could link it to increased production.
Greater skills for employees serve as a safety net against retrenchment. The plan also points out that remuneration packages could double as a result of skills development. Most unions’ membership fees amount to 1% of an employee’s salary, and a bigger salary therefore means an increase in trade union revenue too.
In the main, the Mboweni plan is good, but unfortunately it is coming up against ideologically driven opposition. Ironically, this plan will in the end save the trade unions that are on the decline. They just don’t know it yet.
Gideon du Plessis is Solidarity’s General Secretary