21 February 2023
As the Federation of Unions of South Africa reflects on the upcoming tabling of the national budget by the finance minister this week, the resolution of the dire economic crisis being faced by South Africans is of utmost priority.
- COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS
The poor and workers are being strangled by surging costs of necessities, including food. The situation is untenable. We have heard the government openly note that indeed the crisis has worsened post the Covid-19 pandemic years. However, there has been no real effort to cushion struggling South Africans who can barely afford electricity with prices increasing consistently while evidence shows us that salaries are shrinking and have been for years. By March 2022, the real average South African salary fell below the R15 000 mark, an annual fall of -5,6%.
- PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS
Among those workers affected, are public servants who have just entered the 2023 wage negotiations process with the hope that the government will raise salaries significantly. This sector has not had protection from the inflationary spiral since 2020, with workers receiving less than CPI adjustments, with little movement on their pensionable earnings. We appeal to the finance minister to keep in line with the outcomes of the Public Sector summit last year that spelt out the need for Treasury to await the wage negotiations process before a set amount is placed. Whatever remains of the already budgeted R45 billion over the three-year MTEF period will not suffice to cover real increases. Fedusa affiliates in the public sector have demonstrated good faith by returning to negotiations despite a strike threat by other unions because our members are committed to making South Africa work effectively again.
- POST OFFICE AND TELKOM
Close to 8 000 workers at the Post Office and Telkom are facing job losses in a labour market climate that has seen workers struggle to re-enter once retrenched. The challenges that have brought the Post Office to its knees are known to the government and national treasury, yet South Africans have watched as this once critical institution dwindles to near death, robbing millions of people access to mail in a country with low internet access that drives inequality. The finance minister must engage his colleagues in government to utilise the funds in the Employment and Labour department’s job creation and job preservation schemes to save these jobs. The National Development plan places great weight on the government’s ability to ensure decent work is maintained and that human and workers’ rights are respected. We want to see government walk the talk, by saving these 6000 jobs at the Post Office and the at risk 1 770 jobs at Telkom as it claims restructuring.
- FUEL LEVIES
We also want to remind the national treasury of Fedusa’s campaign requesting the government to intervene in the runaway fuel prices. We note the efforts made by the government last year to cushion motorists as the Russia-Ukraine war exacerbated the costs. We call on the finance minister to announce once again that there will be no increases to the fuel price levy. This suspension will grant workers, commuters, and small businesses some breathing room.
Fuel levies place a burden on already strained commuters, who are subjected to use taxis and other modes of transport. FEDUSA therefore calls on the government to prioritise the rehabilitation of railway infrastructure, to be able to provide commuters with affordable mode of transport.
- BASIC INCOME GRANT
Fedusa also appeals to the national treasury to take the necessary steps to make the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant permanent, while scaling it up. In the Medium-term Budget Policy Statement last year, the minister extended the grant to March 2024. Then he planted the seed of the introduction of a new permanent social grant that would have to be accompanied by significant growth in income, a significant reduction in spending, or both. We hope that as the Minister returns to parliament for the budget speech, this matter will take priority once more, with clear set timelines for the implementation of relief to poor South Africans. We cannot wait forever on the government to assess the various modalities it has said it is exploring over the years. The crisis is now and is harming the prospects of children who are stunted due to poor diet because of poverty, while some South Africans, including the working poor, are forced to go to bed on empty stomachs. We equally remain committed to the call for a universal basic income as an urgent need, as the SRD grant demonstrates.
Fedusa is concerned about the renewed surge in attacks on armoured trucks that transports money between retailers and banks in the country. The cash-in-transit heists as they are referred to are peaking once more, with
incidents reported weekly. We are concerned about the lives of our members who get killed and injured during these attacks. There is also the economic impact it carries. Cash is no doubt an important component of the South African economy. The CIT industry’s failure to safely distribute cash across the country could bring our struggling economy to its feet. There is also the threat that crime levels in general pose to our economic growth, with investors open about their reluctance to bring international capital to a country viewed as largely violent even beyond our borders.
- JUST TRANSITION
President Cyril Ramaphosa told the people of this country during his recent state of the nation address that the government is continuing with its just transition to a low carbon economy with one of the key goals being the opening of new investments and industries that can create new jobs. We look forward to hearing more about this from the finance minister to fully understand how the R1,5 trillion just energy transition investment plan will work. The Just Transition project is an initiative of the country’s social partners including Fedusa and other organised labour. Its success is fully reliant on transparency. Fedusa calls on the national treasury to invest some of the funds on an institution or just transition centre that will enable continuity and openness sothat it is indeed inclusive and has no negative impact on job security.
Fedusa also looks forward to the finance minister’s explanation of how the country’s infrastructure will be revived. Finer details about the infrastructure projects worth R232 billion that are under construction is also expected.
South Africans need to have their hope revived; we hope the budget speech will give us a clear roadmap of how the country will make its way out of the prolonged period of suffering.