Friday, February 10, 2017

COSATU Statement on the SONA 2017
10 February 2017

COSATU has noted the State of the Nation Address as presented by the President of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, yesterday 09 February 2017. While the speech tried to deal with some of the issues that the federation raised in its pre-SONA expectations statement, we are concerned at the lack of detail on how and when some of these proposed and obviously necessary reforms will be completed.

The speech did fall seriously short on many issues and also failed to grapple with the enormity of the task of putting our economy on to a new growth path. We did not hear any concrete plans to dismantle the economic legacy we inherited from apartheid, nothing was concretely offered on how to rebuild the manufacturing industry, to eliminate the apartheid wage structure, to change the macro-economic policies, including using state-owned companies to restructure the economy. There was no mention of banning labour brokers or any measures to strengthen collective bargaining. It was also frustrating to notice the silence on how government will address the varying governance crises, outsourcing and labour broking and retrenchments in Telkom, SAA, the Post Office, Eskom and other SOEs.

COSATU is disappointed at government's lack of a clear and concrete programme to ensure decent permanent jobs for all South Africans. Such a plan needs to bridge the gap that currently exists between business and labour ;and also needs to be premised upon a living wage for all and not cheap and precarious labour. We expected the SONA to also include specific targets per sector per month. This country needs to create at least 100 000 new jobs per month and big business should stop retrenching across the board ,including the lifting of the vacancy freeze by government departments.

We welcome though the efforts to make it easier and more attractive for people to invest in South Africa although further details are needed in this regard. The president also failed to mention the much more serious investment strike by those employers , who are sitting on more than R1 trillion in social surpluses, which they are refusing to invest in the economy. Surely this is the time to introduce a developmental state, determined to restructure the economy without solely relying on pleading with private sector to invest that money and create jobs.

We are happy with the commitment to drive economic growth with R900 billion in infrastructure and R500 billion in state expenditure and local procurement requirements. The federation will like to hear more details on how to support key strategic sectors, e.g. manufacturing, agriculture, textiles, renewable energy and tourism. We eagerly await detailed report back by ministers on the 9 point plan, although, we would have preferred that these reports be included in the SONA.

COSATU expected the president to say something about the creation of a state financial institution. The Alliance already has a resolution to ensure that the Post Bank is converted into a State bank.

Agriculture We welcome the renewed focus and commitment to speed up land reform and await government’s comprehensive plan on how to do so. The plan needs to include providing support to new and existing farmers ,as well as to prioritise farm workers and rural women for land allocation and equity in farms. The workers appreciate the R2.5 billion spent to assist farmers during the drought, but are disappointed that there were no conditions insisting that the beneficiaries of this rescue package protect worker’s jobs. We are unhappy that the president said nothing about the jobs crisis in the poultry sector.COSATU also insists that government needs to engage with labour and business on its proposed sugar tax to develop a plan to promote healthy lifestyles, without losing any further jobs in a bleeding economy.

Mining We welcome the attention given to the need for transformation and to reduce the shocking levels of deaths and accidents on our mines. It’s disappointing though that government is still failing to hold mining companies accountable for high accident rates in the mines, including their failure to provide decent living and working conditions for all mine workers. Government and big business also do not seem to have a plan in place to prevent job losses, and also to re-skill and retrain these retrenched workers. It is unacceptable that these workers are being dumped and abandoned, despite many of them having given their lives to build these companies.

Energy and environment We are happy with government’s renewable energy commitments and expect Eskom to stop delaying renewable expansions. We welcome the President's commitment for Eskom to expand renewable energy, while we remain opposed to government's continued nuclear expansion commitments. Going forward, we expect Eskom to stop with massive above inflationary increases. We have noted with concern that SONA was silent on how we plan to achieve our climate change objectives as outlined in the Copenhagen and Paris Agreements.

Education and health We welcome the 895 new and revamped schools but are disappointed that SONA did not indicate ,when we will finally do away with mud schools and school infrastructure backlog, in particular ensuring decent sanitation for all learners ;as well as ensuring the perpetual text book crisis is ended ,including the timeous payment of all teachers. We are happy with the shifting of R32 billion to assist working and middle class tertiary students, including the assistance to relieve NSFAS student debt. We support the no fees increase for students from families earning less than R600, 000 per annum. The federation is concerned though that government is taking too long to address the burning issue of free and affordable higher education. We welcome the commitment to speed up NHI implementation but we are worried it is under serious attack from the private sector and may be dangerously watered down by them. Government should remove private interests from the NHI as soon as possible. We remain concerned at the never ending infrastructure, supplies, staffing and security crises across too many of our public hospitals including the shortage of clinics and ambulances.

Social Security We support the commitment to tackle the scourge of drug abuse. But are worried that the SONA was silent on the debacle around the extension of the invalid contract of CSP to process social grant payments. This function needs to be in sourced back to SASSA and not outsourced to a contractor of dubious legal standing. COSATU is disappointed at the lack of mention of the need for comprehensive social security reform.

Municipalities The federation supports the focus and commitment to train young people as plumbers but this is not enough. Government needs to establish a war room to address the water crisis. It needs to drive conservation, saving and desalination programmes. We should also insist that municipalities stop making water unaffordable for the poor. Municipalities should also stop using the EPWP’s as a source of cheap labour for cash strapped municipalities.

Conclusion Going forward , the federation pledges to support the broad thrust of some of the policies announced by the President, but will not stop opposing other policies we disagree with. We demand that more be done to really take the nation on another developmental trajectory. We will continue to fight against labour brokers and e-tolls, and are clearly disappointed by government’s silence on the need for affordable, accessible, safe and reliable public transport system , including addressing the crisis facing metro rail. We will continue to tirelessly take forward discussions on the commitment made at the Alliance Summit in 2013, to realign the economic and labour market proposals of the NDP to the commitment to radical economic transformation.

Disgraceful conduct of the MP’s We denounce and flatly reject the disgraceful, intolerant and immature behaviour of a rude minority of MPs from across party lines, but in particular the EFF that once again made a spectacle of the SONA. We can only hope that they will one day realise their hooligan behaviour is a betrayal and embarrassment to the ordinary voters, who elected them to represent their interests in Parliament ,and a precedent that they will never be able to reverse for years to come. The EFF has every right to protest, but not the right to collapse Parliament and deny other people from engaging on issue s that affect the country.

Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (National Spokesperson)
Tel: +27 11 339-4911 Direct 010 219-1339
Mobile: 060 975 6794

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