Cosatu's national shutdown on Thursday was mostly ignored, employers say. Gallo Images/File

A CALL by South Africa’s biggest labour group for workers to stage a one-day national strike on Thursday against budget cuts went largely unheeded, an employers’ group said. 

More than 83% of staff reported for duty, ignoring an appeal by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to stay away, a survey of 191 firms conducted by the National Employers Association of South Africa showed.

“I envisaged this Cosatu strike was going to be a major failure,” and no noticeable business disruptions were reported, Gerhard Papenfus, the association’s chief executive officer, said by phone.

Cosatu said budget cuts had led to an unacceptable wage freeze for civil servants and retrenchments by state companies, and it accused private firms of embarking on an “investment strike”, with many of them hoarding cash or taking it out the country. The federation’s demands included that the government reverse spending curbs, do more to create jobs, support the unemployed and accelerate the rollout of coronavirus vaccines. 

Cosatu made it clear to its members that it didn’t want them to gather in groups of more than 500 in line with rules aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, and was happy with the strike turnout, according to its spokesman Sizwe Pamla. Further strikes will be staged unless the federation’s demands are met, he said.  

A separate steelworkers strike, which was called by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, continued for a third day on Thursday, with workers downing tools in five of the nine provinces. That labour action has affected some mining, construction, engineering and metallurgical businesses and will eventually hit automakers if they can’t secure steel supplies. 


COSATU and its Affiliate therefore demand the following key interventions by government and the private sector.

Respect Collective Bargaining and Labour Rights

• Government, SOEs, Municipalities and employers in the private sector must respect collective bargaining, signed agreements and all labour rights, including the payments of salaries.

• All employers, public and private, must address the wage gap, in particular the gender wage gap.

• All employers must tackle sexual harassment and violence at the workplace.

Intensify the Fight Against Corruption

• The ban on politically exposed persons from doing business with the state must be strengthened and extended to include national, provincial and regional leaders of political parties elected to lead government and their spouses and children.

• Government must allocate further resources to the South African Revenue Service to tackle tax and customs evasion and fraud.

• Life-style audits must be made mandatory for members of Cabinet, Provincial Executive Councils and Mayoral Committees, as well as the senior management and supply chain officials of departments, entities, SOEs and municipalities.

• A single, transparent online public procurement system must be established for the entire state, e.g. departments, entities, SOEs and municipalities. This must be provided for in the Public Procurement Bill and tabled at Nedlac by the beginning of 2022.

• Additional resources must be allocated to commercial crimes courts to tackle corruption cases.

• Additional resources must be allocated to the National Prosecuting Authority and the Police to ensure that they have sufficient capacity to tackle corruption.

• The NPA and government must utilise the powers provided to them under the Auditing Amendment Act to hold offending politicians and officials personally liable for corruption.

• The NPA and government must use the powers provided to them under the Criminal Matters Amendment Act of 2015 to tackle widespread copper cable theft and impose a ban on all copper exports whose legal origin cannot be traced.

Solidarity Must be Provided to Workers and the Unemployed

• The continuous failures by the UIF to pay workers under Level 4 and other Temporary Employment Relief Scheme (TERS) payments as well as those workers who lost wages to the violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng must be dealt with and paid immediately. This must also include workers still waiting to receive monies owed to them from TERS from the lockdowns in 2020.

Similar delays in paying normal UIF, maternity and parental leave owed to workers must be addressed as well.

• Treasury must expedite legislation to allow financially distressed public and private sector workers limited access to their pension funds. A Bill providing for this must be tabled with the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement due in Parliament on November 4 2021.

• Government must extend the R350 Covid-19 Special Relief Dispensation Grant beyond March 2022. It must be made permanent and increased to the food poverty line. It must be paid electronically to its recipients to end the long

queues at post offices.

Reckless Austerity Budget Cuts Must be Reversed

• Government must move from an austerity drive response to the recession and fiscal crisis to one that focusses on stimulating economic growth, creating jobs and plugging the holes in the fiscus, e.g. corruption and wasteful expenditure.

• Public servants, municipal workers and SOE employees must be protected from inflation and wage freezes.

• The budget cuts crippling the CCMA must be reversed.

• The reduction in South African Police Service members of 7 000 must be reversed and the commitment by the President to actually increase it by 7 000 in 2021 honoured.

• The reckless cuts to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition which have harmed its ability to fund industrial financing must be reversed.

• All frontline service vacancies, in particular in health and education must be filled. This must include making permanent Community Health Worker posts.

• Clear plans must be put in place to ensure all schools have decent sanitation and learning facilities.

  • Bloomberg. Additional reporting by Inside Politics.
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