Cosatu's national strike draws 400 protesters to Mary Fitzgerald Square

Workers in nine provinces march against retrenchments

13 February 2019 - 12:23 By Nico Gous
About 400 protesters marched from Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg, to the provincial legislature on Wednesday as part of Cosatu's national strike against job losses.
About 400 protesters marched from Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg, to the provincial legislature on Wednesday as part of Cosatu's national strike against job losses.
Image: Gallo Images

Bankers and teachers find common ground: the drizzle in Johannesburg did not deter about 400 marchers from singing and chanting on Mary Fitzgerald Square on Wednesday as part of Cosatu's national strike against job losses.

Arnold Kester from the SA Society of Banking Officials (Sasbo) works in the cheque department at a bank and has survived one round of layoffs.

"In general, the number of cheques is decreasing and in the process we have already gone through restructuring. I was not personally affected but I know some of our members who were."

Kester said that as cheque usage continues dropping, another round of layoffs seems inevitable.

Cosatu wants the national strike on Wednesday to bring the country to a standstill. Spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the one-day protected strike was intended to highlight the fight against job losses in the public and private sectors.

Several other unions have voiced support for the strike including the National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) and the SA Commercial Catering and Allied Workers' Union (Saccawu).

SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) member Prince Zulu from Alexandria is a lecturer at a TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) college who feels the sector is overlooked.

"I feel government just takes the TVET sector for granted. We're earning peanuts compared to fellow comrades … And you've been working there for more than five years, six years, still on contract basis, but working for the same government that says people must be permanently employed within three months."

Gazebos set up on the sides of the square were selling union clothes, memorabilia and hot food as other vendors sold drinks from holders hoisted on their shoulders.

Some of the placards read:

  • A company must not be allowed to retrench workers simply to make profits;
  • Eskom is not for sale; and
  • No to outsourcing and privatisation.

Zimbabwe Communist Party (ZCP) member Ian Beddowes believes the current government under recently elected President Cyril Ramaphosa is an improvement, but "we must keep up the pressure".

Beddowes believes the government should be allowed to split Eskom into three businesses if it remains in state hands. Ramaphosa, during the state of the nation address, said the power utility would be split into three.

Said Beddowes: "The independent power producers are using new technology. Now what we're saying is that the new technology should be under state ownership, because whether we like it or not, we have to get away from coal."

Business Day reported on Tuesday SA's unemployment rate improved in the fourth quarter, as is usually expected for a quarter that brings a temporary hiring boost thanks to the holiday season.

Unemployment from September to December fell 0.4 of a percentage point to 27.1% Stats SA said in its quarterly labour force survey on Tuesday.

Despite this trend in recent years, economists polled by Bloomberg expected unemployment to remain unchanged at 27.5%.

The data showed that the working-age population increased by 149,000 in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared with the previous quarter, while the number of employed increased by 149,000 to 16.5-million. The number of unemployed decreased by 70,000 to 6.1-million.

The marches are at the following venues around the country:

Gauteng: The march started at 9am at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg, and was due to proceed to the provincial legislature where demands would be handed to premier David Makhura and business leaders.

Limpopo: Marchers were to gather at the SABC office park and head to the office of the premier, department of labour, Eskom and Anglo Platinum.

Mpumalanga: Lynnville stadium is the gathering point for a march to the department of labour.

Free State: In Welkom marchers will go to the department of mineral resources.

KwaZulu-Natal: A march will start at King Dinuzulu Park in Durban. Memorandums will be handed to the premier, chamber of mines and department of labour.

North West: March starts at Montshiwa stadium in Mafikeng and will proceed to the provincial legislature.

Western Cape: March will proceed from Keizergracht Street in Cape Town to the Cape chamber of business, provincial government, City of Cape Town and parliament.

Northern Cape: In Kimberley marchers were to start at the Kemo Hotel and march to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Eastern Cape: Marches are expected in the Nelson Mandela Metro, Queenstown, Mthatha and King William's Town.