Cablegate: South Africa: November Labor Notes

DE RUEHJO #0323/01 3341623
R 301623Z NOV 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. Summary: Construction workers revamping the Moses Mabhida
Stadium in Durban went on strike the beginning of November last
week, over low wages and safety issues. The National Union of
Mineworkers (NUM) chose to get involved on behalf of the
construction workers, and reached an agreement with employers on
November 19. Meanwhile, trade union federation COSATU has
called for an investigation and change of regulations to protect
farm workers after 16 farm workers died over a five day period
in two separate transport accidents, while the Food and Allied
Workers Union (FAWU) organized a series of rural protest marches
on Saturday, November 17 to protest against poor working
conditions including safety issues.

2. Trade Union Federations NACTU and FEDUSA joined in
confederation SACOTU which claims 900,000 members, still
substantially less than COSATU's 1.8 million. The Department of
Labor is undergoing staff changes including the departure of
Director General Vanguard Mkosana. The National Union of
Mineworkers has called a nation-wide strike over safety issues
for December 4, and said all of its 240,000 members are likely
to take part. COSATU's Central Executive Committee called for
an investigation into its President Willie Madisha, in a
controversy over allegedly missing donated to the South African
Communist Party. End Summary.

Strike at 2010 Stadium in Durban

3. A 12-day strike at Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium ended on
Monday, November 19 with an agreement by employers by pay
additional project bonuses, employ additional health and safety
staff, and a promise to assist in enforcing a minimum wage on
subcontractors. NUM, the National Union of Mineworkers,
negotiating on behalf of construction workers, had demanded
monthly bonuses, better health and safety standards, and tying
the hiring of subcontractors to their compliance with a sectoral
determination which sets a minimum wage. NUM claimed that some
workers employed by subcontractors were earning just R6 (or less
than one dollar) an hour. The agreement reached means that a
secondary strike at other 2010 sites will not proceed
immediately, though the press has speculated that the
concessions made in Durban will incite strikes at other 2010

Farm Worker Protests

4. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has
called for an investigation and crackdown on the use of open
trucks to transport workers to and from their workplaces after
16 farm workers died in two separate incidents within a five day
period. Ten farm workers did on November 9 after truck they
were riding in went off the road near Piketberg. Another 6
died, and 40 were injured in a highway accident on November 14.

5. One of COSATU's affiliates, the Food and Allied Worker
Union, organized a strike by farm workers on Saturday, November
17. While the union claimed that thousands of farm workers in a
variety of rural towns would strike over poor working and living
conditions, lack of concern about their safety, and the impact
of food price inflation (currently running at 17 percent at the
retail and 24 percent at the producer level) , press reports
indicate that turnout was in the hundreds. The press also
indicated that the South African Communist Party reinforced the
numbers of farm workers marching.


6. Comment: Both construction and farm work have relatively
low rates of unionization, and both of the trade unions taking
action - NUM and FAWA - have a majority membership that is not
in the trades that are striking. Trade union federation COSATU
is encouraging its affiliates to have a minimum membership of
100,000 and therefore some consolidation is occurring with
smaller trade unions being absorbed by larger ones. Bread and
butter issues, especially food price inflation, led to South
Africa's very substantial strike season this year, with the
South African Reserve Bank estimating that real wages declined
by 2.6 percent over the first quarter of 2007 from the same
period in 2006. While there are economic reasons for both
FAWA and NUM to have taken strike actions, a trade union contact
told us the NUM strike was at least partly political. An
official involved in 2010 preparations thought NUM's actions
were entirely political, aimed at influencing the ANC's
Polokwane conference. Press attention on low wages and poor
working conditions is meant to highlight the limitations of
President Mbeki's otherwise strong economic performance. End

Staff Changes at Department of Labor

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7. Vanguard Mkosana, Director General at the Department of
Labor, will leave that position on November 30 at the expiration
of his contract. The Department of Labor has a series of
qualified audits form the auditor general over the past three
years. In addition, staff turnover, especially among labor
inspectors, and continuing vacancies have hampered the
effectiveness of the department. Press reports indicate that
Deputy Director General Masodi Xaba and chief Financial Officer
Chris van der Merwe are also leaving after Minister Mdladlana
accepted their resignations. Les Kettledas, a veteran
bureaucrat, will be the Department's acting Director General.

Two Trade Union Federations Merge - More or Less
--------------------------------------------- --------------------

8. In an event attended by Labor Minister Mdladlana that
nevertheless received very little press play, trade union
federations FEDUSA (Federation of Trade Unions of South Africa)
and NACTU (National Council of Trade Unions) formed a
confederation to be known as the South African Confederation of
Trade Unions (SACOTU) on November 9, 2007. FEDUSA and NACTU
announced their plans to merge in September 2006, but, in the
event, disparities in management style limited their
amalgamation to a confederation. While both federations were
apolitical, FEDUSA had run its trade union like a business, with
regular financial and membership audits, whereas NACTU brought
its political influence to the table. SACOTU's claims to have
membership of around 900,000 trade unionists. It proposed to be
an independent and non-political trade union. (Comment: The ANC
government has dealt preferentially with both NACTU and FEDUSA
in the past, partly because of COSATU's political engagement and
willingness to publicly criticize President Mbeki's government
whenever the opportunity offered. The government encouraged
both federations to unite, in order to create a greater working
class voice beyond COSATU. End Comment. COSATU said it had
written to SACOTU to propose a meeting to discuss COSATU's
proposal for a single united trade union federation, a proposal
unlikely to find favor with apolitical SACOTU.

Mineworkers to Strike on Safety Issues on December 4
--------------------------------------------- --------------

9. The National Union of Mineworkers set December 4 as the date
for a one-day nationwide strike on safety issues. According to
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka, gold mines including Harmony,
AngloGold Ashanti, and Gold Fields will be struck as well as
platinum producers Impala Platinum and Anglo Platinum. Diamond
producer DeBeers and coal miner Exxaro will also be targeted
during the strike, which the union claims will involve all of
its 240,000 members. Another four miners died in four separate
incidents over the three day period from November 22-24. NUM
has described the spate of mining deaths as "genocide."
According to Chamber of Mines statistics, mining fatalities
stand at 182 deaths this year. (Comment: A large of number of
miners are using workers sourced through labor brokers - one
estimate says a third of the mining workforce is now sourced
through labor brokers -- and these workers may chose not to
participate in the strike. Nevertheless production is likely
to be affected. End Comment.)

COSATU to Investigate its President

10. COSATU's Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting of
November 13-15 voted to conduct a commission of inquiry into the
conduct of its President Willie Madisha. Madisha, who is also
the President of the South African Democratic Teachers Union,
has been embroiled in a controversy over R500,000 allegedly
donated by a businessman to the South African Communist Party
and allegedly delivered to its General Secretary, Blade
Nzimande. Madisha was involved in the transport and delivery of
these funds, which were never recorded nor apparently reached
the SACP treasurer. He was not charged but made a statement
to the police. The CEC voted to authorize a commission of
inquiry to examine whether the conduct of Madisha brought COSATU
into disrepute or have led to a deterioration of trust between
national office bearers.

© Scoop Media

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