A mixed bag of fruit

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Matthew Parks
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Delivering on the Presidential Jobs Summit and ERRP commitments

SALB interviewed Cosatu’s Parliamentary Coordinator, Matthew Parks, to find out what happened to the 2018 Job Summit decisions and how these relate to the ERRP.

Are the job summit decisions of October 2018 still relevant or have they all been swept under the carpet because of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) adopted by government in October 2020?

Yes and no. There were a lot of good positive details in the 77-page job summit agreement, with a lot of specific interventions. Each social partner be it government, business, labour was meant to come with specific interventions that they could deliver on.

Source: Job Summit Agreement, 2018

Was the job summit agreement implemented after it was signed?

We got quite frustrated. It was signed September 2018 but by mid-2019 we were seeing very little progress in it. Government, business were just not implementing, some were not even aware of the agreement.

For example, it agreed to establish a Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Council and to house this in a Climate Change Bill, a very simple thing. When the Bill came to Nedlac the department was unaware of this commitment, and we had to then fight for about a year to get that commitment inserted in the Bill which was a really simple administrative issue.

So on more substantive agreements, government and business were just ignoring them, they weren’t bothered. We threw our toys out of the cot, escalated it to the President, said this thing is going to die if you don’t make some intervention.

We then started holding monthly meetings with the President, Presidential Working Committee (PWC) at Nedlac. [We would meet] on the first Monday of each month at 7am for 2 hours to get quick things sorted out.

We were seeing some progress, holding ministers and officials to account, putting pressure on business. We started getting the water licensing issues sorted. Where before it would take you 3 years to get a water licence which is important for mining and agriculture, we got it reduced down to 90 days. We got a one-stop online portal for companies to register for CIPS, SARS, UIF, COIDA etc.

That 6-month phase was beginning to gain some momentum. And then Covid happened and we went into a lockdown.

How did Covid-19 and lockdown affect the whole process?

We thought we need to be fair to the President and give him space to focus on the pandemic. All of us were in lockdown for 2-3 months, everybody was in the dark. The PWC has not met since that time and it seemed more and more that government and business were not bothering with the presidential job summit agreement commitments.

Was labour doing its bit and adhering to its commitments?

Look we also had our hands full responding to the pandemic, to the lockdown, we got quite involved in the economic and social relief measures given the response to the lockdown, from the UIF TERS, the R350 grant, increasing the social grants, sectoral relief, tax relief for businesses etc. so those also kept us quite busy.

What other issues was the pandemic bringing to the fore?

From August 2020 it was obvious that this [pandemic] was going to be with us for quite some time, [and that] we did need to have a broader reconstruction plan to rebuild the economy. We had had discussions in the Alliance, [we] adopted a Covid-19 discussion paper, unfortunately it became quite long and convoluted. We were much more keen on immediate interventions that can kick-start the economy, save jobs or create jobs, practical stuff that you can do within a month, 2-3 months, not 5-10 year projects.

We started having engagements at Nedlac around some immediate relief. Can we just survive today, also try and survive tomorrow and make the day after and include some medium to long term interventions to get the economy moving?

On a positive level, we concluded the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Programme (ERRP) fairly quickly between August to October 2020. The one worrying part was the lack of detailed time-frames and financial commitments from government on many of the commitments. But look we were just hoping to get things moving quickly.

What are the key components of the ERRP?

The ERRP has basically 4 major workstreams: energy security, transport and freight, local procurement, SMME funding.

How did you make sure that the jobs summit decisions were not ignored in the ERRP?

Business wanted to just move on from the job summit agreement. We didn’t want to do that because we felt that many of the [job summit] issues are still relevant and would have a positive impact on the economy if you could do it. So, you might need to do a bit of reprioritising given the pandemic, the lockdown, but it doesn’t mean the validity of those commitments isn’t still there.

[Each of the 4 major workstreams of ERRP] are allocated different parts of the job summit agreement to focus on. And then each of these work streams meets once a month and then you have the departments, business, labour come and report on what are they doing on each of them to get things moving.

And the fact that the job summit decisions have been put under ERRP, is that promising?

It was a major point for us, we can’t abandon those commitments, it may mean we reprioritise given the pandemic.

In your view, what is the biggest achievement so far?

The biggest one is the Eskom Social Compact. We had drafted it as COSATU in October 2019 and then tabled it at the lekgotla of the ANC in January 2020 and then Nedlac in February 2020 and got it adopted in December 2020. That’s being implemented. There are some positive things there.

You would know how deep the challenges are within Eskom on many fronts, but I think we are seeing some green shoots there but that’s going to be a decade plus transition on many fronts. But I think there’s going to be a need for more painful discussions, Eskom is broke and we’ve got to invest 100s of billions of Rands to build new generation capacity in the next decade as a third of the existing Eskom generation capacity comes off grid.

What’s happened around local procurement?

We were trying to look at game-changing momentum interventions where the big mining companies, Department of Health, Department of Correctional Services and some of the big procurers like Eskom and Transnet can [procure locally] and help to move the needle. I don’t think there’s been enough progress on that front.

We also wanted to target [local procurement] specifically for large items like cooking oil for the fast-food industry, cement for the construction industry and get local procurement commitments for retail, clothing and look at the motor manufacturing sector to ramp up components for local procurement.

And freight and public transport?

We thought if we can get Transnet freight working, Transnet Ports Authority (TNPA) working we can get our exports on time to the local markets and to the foreign markets and I think you would know how badly the ports are bleeding. We are seeing the effect on exporters and even local manufacturers, in all sectors. I think there is a little bit of movement in that regard in the ports but not much on freight rail.

Many workers preferred Metro Rail because it is a subsidised, affordable service and it was a reliable form of transport. But even before the pandemic, constant delays because of cable theft etc. and of course the fires in the train carriages on Metro Rail would result in workers coming two hours late for work every day. [A dysfunctional rail network has] huge consequences for workers: not getting to work on time, losing wages, discipline issues and for the company, [declining] productivity.

There’s been very little movement on Prasa, Metro Rail. We are just watching a train wreck in slow motion. We are witnessing the death of Metrorail in the cities.

Give us more detail around the death of Metrorail.

The Langa train station in Cape Town has been inoperable since about May/June 2020 – we’ve seen no actual movement to get it working again. If you lose Langa because there is a squatter camp built on top of the train lines, that is the Cape Flats Metro line gone, your lines to Mitchells Plain, to Khayelitsha, to Belville etc. are gone.

Now you get a bill of R40m to rehabilitate Langa Station’s lines, but they don’t move with speed so the decay continues.  And of course, when those lines are not working, those stations, those lines are also being stripped as well. It’s not an easy thing to steal cables, it takes some effort, you need a bakkie etc, it’s not that difficult to deploy people on the ground.

You get a lot of reports about inside involvement by the security companies themselves or individuals who are involved in this copper theft. There have been a couple of people who have been sent to prison and about 6 years ago there was an act passed in Parliament, Criminal Matters Amendment Act. If you’re a syndicate you’ll get like 30 years, the guys that are stealing it might get 2 years, people are being put in prison with the act. But very few people will ever be arrested for it and when you talk to people at Metro Rail, they are convinced that it’s inside jobs, whether it’s security companies or somebody else.

I think in the last few years about 100 carriages were destroyed in fires. That’s deliberate sabotage, who carries that level of petrol around, who is able to break through the security and destroy? A train carriage is not exactly flammable, it’s not a piece of paper that you can just light with a match. It doesn’t make sense, who benefits from burning a train carriage?

What power do you have to put pressure on Prasa/Metro Rail?

We meet with Transnet and Prasa once a month at Nedlac. They give us all the glossy PowerPoints, all the strong language saying they are doing this on cable theft, doing this to rebuild the train lines etc., but I don’t see much by SAPS or by Metro Rail or Transnet.

The unions across federations have long been calling for the deployment of the police, the revival of the railway police unit, the deployment of the SANDF (the police don’t have the time right now) just to secure the lines but there’s no movement.

What needs to be done from the unions’ side to make unions more effective at monitoring and pressurising government and business?

There are a lot of victories that we managed to secure – R60bn from the UIF fund going to 5,5m workers but I see very few unions actively monitoring compliance making sure employers are registered for UIF, making sure workers deductions are paid to UIF. Some unions like SACTWU are actively involved in that.

SACTWU would have regular meetings with UIF and factories – ‘these haven’t received, what’s the process, what’s needed, what’s missing’ – they would do it and get things through, it’s painstaking work but they would do it. It’s a drain on their time too but it’s beneficial and it shows their members why it makes sense to join a union.

I think if all unions did that you wouldn’t have 5m workers not registered for UIF – it might be 3m workers, or 2m. It’s an easy propaganda tool for unions to say why workers should join – it affects your bank balance.

Then there’s blowing the whistle on corruption, many of our shop stewards have done that and often have paid with their lives. In Limpopo some of the SAMWU shop stewards were murdered for blowing the whistle on VBS; we need more to blow the whistle.

On the local procurement front we need to do much more as unions to help drive local procurement. We struggle a bit on that front; it’s a bit of a psychological, cultural shift we need to do, to say okay as unionists when we buy our t-shirts, our furniture, our cars – can we make sure they are locally produced. It’s a small amount, a change of mindset, every little bit helps but at a more critical level it’s about ensuring that the workplaces where the unions operate, or the bargaining councils or the sectors, they also drive local procurement. Then you could have a more positive impact.

POPCRU could make sure that in correctional services, all the uniforms and food is locally produced – it houses almost 200 000 inmates, the same thing at basic education – can Sadtu make sure that all the school uniforms are locally produced. Sactwu has long championed it but has cascaded it to other unions, but also many unions do have some significant investment funds.

We are trying to chase that up and get each union to appoint a local procurement champion, give us monthly reports of what they are doing, not just COSATU, but FEDUSA, NACTU. FEDUSA gave us a report with a breakdown on how they have committed to spend locally, what are the goods, which company sectors, we need to also take it up to a much higher level too, instead of just expecting government and business to do everything for us.

[And where workers live] you have these election manifestos but most of our unions and structures don’t hold government to account for implementing it. So you sit in a municipality in Ventersdorp but you are not holding the mayor accountable for what they’re doing under the manifesto commitment: ‘ja do whatever you want and we will just complain when you misbehave’. Instead of asking, ‘What have you done on this front, on local procurement, restoring basic services to attract companies to come back?’ You saw the case in Lichtenburg where Clover shut down? That’s a tiny town, Clover had 200 jobs which is devastating to that town.

Have unions thought how they could create more jobs in their sectors?

I don’t think they’ve given sufficient attention to that. We have more discussions about decent work, what are the components to it. We deliver on paid parental leave, we improve paid maternity leave benefits but I don’t think on a practical level we have given that much thought at a sectoral level. Some unions are very advanced, leading discussions in their sectors, others are just not part of the discussions, they are passengers or bystanders.

To be fair to the unions, it’s difficult for them, they are on the back foot in many regards – the clothing industry is constantly under pressure from imports, retail is under pressure from automation, the mining industry from automation but also general retrenchments.

But having said that, it will become more difficult as the 4th industrial revolution (4IR) gains momentum, especially when you are in an economy with 44 per cent unemployment levels. It’s going to affect young people, women, white collar as well as blue collar [workers], rural areas, some jobs will just be lost. I’m not sure if we are giving enough attention to splitting those jobs which can be gained, some jobs will be lost, there’s nothing you can do about it, but split other job opportunities to offset those losses and absorb those workers.

The post office can’t survive in its current mode so then what does a future post office look like, what does it do? Thinking that it’s going to post letters then you might as well just close it now, it can’t do that, it’s dead, but it could become useful in rural areas, townships, if you combine it with a post bank with other functions like getting your ID, a birth certificate, affidavits, applying for social grants, it could become a government multi-purpose access point. But I’m not sure if we’ve given sufficient attention to each of them.

There’s progress but there’s significant chaos too – it’s a mixed bag of fruit.

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