18 NOVEMBER 2016
Minister of Labour, Ms Mildred Oliphant, President of FEDUSA, Mr Koos Bezuidenhout, General Secretary of FEDUSA, Mr Dennis George, President of COSATU, Mr Sdumo Dlamini, President of NACTU, Mr Joseph Maqhekeni, Leadership of SATUCC and ITUC Africa, President of Business Unity South Africa, Mr Jabu Mabuza, Delegates, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
More than sixty years ago, in the months leading up to the Congress of the People in Kliptown, a call went out to the people of South Africa.
It was a call for them to speak of their trials and tribulations, their hopes and aspirations.
We call the miners of coal, gold and diamonds. Let us speak of the dark shafts, and the cold compounds far from our families. Let us speak of heavy labour and long hours, and of men sent home to die. Let us speak of rich masters and poor wages. Let us speak of freedom.
Let us speak of the good things we make, and the bad conditions of our work. Let us speak of the many passes and the few jobs. Let us speak of foremen and of transport and of trade unions; of holidays and of houses. Let us speak of freedom.
This was a clarion call for decent work and a decent life for all.
It is a call that resonates across time, and which finds expression here, in the 6th National Congress of FEDUSA.
It was a call made by black and white South Africans for a fair and just society where the humanity and inherent dignity of workers is recognised, valued and promoted.
It was a call to end the exploitation of the working class.
It was a call to end inequality, poor wages and sub-human living conditions.
It is a call that we have yet to fully answer.
By placing the struggle for decent work at the centre of our national endeavour, FEDUSA – and the labour movement at large – is defining the path to a better society.
At its essence, decent work is about human solidarity and the partnerships we need to forge to lift the living standards of the South Africans who toil in our mines, factories, farms and harbours.
We look to this Congress to promote engagement among all social partners to urgently implement propoor programmes that advance social justice and social inclusion and enhance the quality of our freedom.
It should proclaim that no person can be free until all people are free.
The privileged in our society must realise that for as long as a decent life remains the preserve of a few, their prosperity will be fleeting.
They must realise that an injustice to one, is a threat to all.
They should pay heed to what the American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, said more than a century ago:
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
When we agreed in 1994 to form a united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa, we rejected a society based on the oppression of one by another.
We entered into a social compact to create a more humane society that protects the most vulnerable among us.
Now, 22 years later, as we reflect on the tremendous achievements of our democracy, as we deliberate on the enormous challenges we must still overcome, let us resolve here that the time has come for a new social compact.
Let us resolve that the needs of our people are so great, the extent of their deprivation so severe and their desire for meaningful progress so relentless, that we must work with urgency to forge a social compact for profound economic change.
The prevailing economic environment makes this task all the more imperative.
South Africa’s economy, like the global economy, has slowed.
Global production is down and demand is weak.
This poses a severe challenge to our job creation efforts.
It undermines our poverty reduction programmes.
Currently, 5.7 million citizens want to work, but are unable to.
A further 2.4 million of our citizens are now discouraged from seeking employment.
Almost 45% of unemployed South Africans have been looking for work for more than three years.
Households are struggling to make ends meet.
Families are struggling to adequately nourish, clothe and educate their children.
Many businesses are experiencing difficulties.
Confidence is low.
Worries about a potential ratings downgrade are weighing heavily on the minds of citizens and investors alike.
And yet, this harsh reality presents a unique opportunity for us to work together to reshape our destiny.
We need greater collaboration among our social partners, capable leadership and a common vision.
We need decisive action to steer our country from despair to hope, from a narrative of lack to a story of opportunity, from a chronicle of deprivation to a testament of prosperity.
We have the means to make that a reality.
We have a commitment from all social partners and a shared interest in growing an inclusive economy, creating decent jobs and improving the living conditions of our people.
We also know what is possible.
Since President Jacob Zuma met with the CEOs of South Africa’s leading companies in February this year, government, business and labour have been working closely together on several measures to stimulate economic growth and job creation.
The social partners have undertaken joint roadshows to meet investors to answer their concerns and to present our shared approach to the economic challenges that confront us.
As part of these efforts, business has led the establishment of an investment fund to provide small businesses with access to finance.
Already, around R1.5 billion has been committed by several companies.
Consultation is continuing on a youth employment initiative, which will see companies coming forwards to place young people in one-year paid internships, giving them crucial exposure to the world of work and significantly improving their chances of finding permanent employment.
But the ambitious target of one million internships within three years will only be achieved if government, business and labour each play their part.
Another signal of the determination of the social partners to work together to build the economy are the deliberations in Nedlac on labour stability and a national minimum wage.
As the representatives of FEDUSA to the Committee of Principals would attest, we are extremely close to reaching agreement on measures to promote labour stability and strengthen collective bargaining.
The provisions contained in the draft code of conduct on collective bargaining, industrial action and picketing, together with significant improvements to the Labour Relations Act, present the promise of a new era in the South African labour market.
This weekend, the social partners at Nedlac will be considering the final report of the Advisory Panel on the introduction of a national minimum wage.
The panel’s recommendations – which are well researched, balanced and considered – give us confidence that agreement on the national minimum wage is imminent.
Agreement among the social partners on a national minimum wage will mark a seminal moment in our decades-long struggle to create decent work and a decent life for all.
After extensive, difficult and occasionally fraught deliberations, the social partners are poised – after more than 60 years – to realise one of the fundamental economic demands of the Freedom Charter.
In the work they have done, in the commitment they have shown, in the differences they have overcome, these constituencies have laid the ground for an enduring partnership to fundamentally transform our economy.
Through their efforts, a new social compact is taking form.
It is a social compact for decent work.
But it is far more than that.
For when more people have decent employment, we are better able to pursue sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
Decent work improves incomes, which wage-earners and their families spend in the economy.
This spending fuels the growth of enterprise, especially small businesses.
Small businesses in turn are able to hire more people.
Decent work increases tax revenues that we can use to fund social measures to protect those who cannot find a job or are unable to work.
This is also a social compact for inclusive growth.
We can say our growth is inclusive if it takes place in areas where the poor live.
We can say our growth is inclusive when it creates jobs that are suited to the skills and capabilities of our people.
We can say that growth is inclusive when it reduces the prices of food, fuel, clothing and transport.
We can say that growth is inclusive when people have land, when they have a stake in the economy and when they are able to acquire skills.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is by working together that we will navigate through the current storms to achieve economic prosperity.
We are the engineers of sound macroeconomic policies that anchor our efforts to achieve inclusive growth.
We have a transparent monetary policy that enables citizens and foreign investors to make informed business decisions.
Our budget policy framework and budget statements continue to prioritise support to the poorest.
We continue to prioritise capital investment, while keeping debt service costs at manageable levels.
Our government is committed to cutting waste and improving efficiency in public spending, while protecting and improving social services for the poor.
We are continuing in our efforts to improve investor confidence and create an environment where businesses can thrive and employ more South Africans.
We are maintaining our massive investment in economic and social infrastructure.
Through our industrial policy, we are prioritising spending on growth-enhancing job creating activities.
We are succeeding in attracting new foreign investment into developing our industrial capacity.
It is by working together with all our social partners we can grow our economy faster and employ more people.
As an essential representative of the working people of this country, as a valued social partner and as an agent for economic and social change, FEDUSA needs to play a leading role in forging this new social compact.
It needs to continue to be a force for unity within the labour movement and a force for progress across society.
This Congress is a testament to the role that FEDUSA has to play in charting a new path for our country.
It is a testament to your commitment not only to advance the interests of your members, but to struggle tirelessly for a better and brighter future for all the people of South Africa.
I thank you.