Thousands of workers yesterday heeded the South African Federation of Trade Unions’ (Saftu) call for a national strike against the proposed minimum wage of R20 an hour, despite rival federation Cosatu urging its members not to participate.
While the year-old breakaway federation’s membership numbers are much lower than Cosatu’s, the opposition to the minimum wage resonated with several political parties and civil society organisations.
Saftu spokesperson Patrick Craven said: “We are very pleased with the turnout … We think it will be an historic day.
“It’s the first time the new federation is at the centre of something like this and it’s very encouraging that so many other organisations have turned up, as well as affiliated unions and mainly civil society organisations and informal traders. This issue clearly struck a chord with a wider public in South Africa who are tired of the levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment – 75% of working South Africans aren’t in any union.”
Civil rights organisation Right2Know, which joined the strike, is opposed to the draft amendment that would make it more difficult to strike.
“The right to strike is a critical provision in our democracy, which is protected by the constitution. It’s key to workers’ right to protest, assembly and association, and freedom of expression,” it said. “The proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act impose secret ballots and compel unions to engage in an extended conciliation process before they can go on a protected strike.”
Craven warned that Cosatu’s support of the draft legislation could strain relations between its leaders and members.
“They have been very embarrassed and it’s clear now why Saftu was not allowed to affiliate to Nedlac when discussions on the minimum wage took place. They must have known we would reject it and that would undermine the deal being made with employers and government. They made a rule that federations had to have existed for at least two years, which made it impossible for us, and it was deliberate.”
Saftu would take its fight to parliament, with the support of three parties: the EFF, UDM and the African People’s Convention, he said.