Union marchers demand action against corruption, unemployment and GBV

07 October 2020 - 11:50
By Shonisani Tshikalange and Aron Hyman
A protester at Cosatu's national stayaway in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times A protester at Cosatu's national stayaway in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Lilian Ngoyi Street was awash in red on Wednesday morning when union members started their march from Burgers Park to the National Treasury in Pretoria.

A sizeable protest was also under way in Cape Town as marchers prepared to hand over a memorandum at the Western Cape legislature during the national day of action called by trade unions on Wednesday.

Their demands include:

  • that action be taken against corruption;
  • drastic action to address SA's massive unemployment increase;
  • a wage increase in the public service; and
  • increased action against gender-based violence (GBV).

Thabang Sonyethi, provincial deputy chairperson of Cosatu in Gauteng, said the protesters comprise essential workers who want change in the country.

“Our female workers are suffering at their workplaces and due to violence in our society, and our government is riddled with corruption reports every week. These are some of the things we want to talk about,” he said.

A sea of red as union members march in Pretoria.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange/TimesLIVE A sea of red as union members march in Pretoria.

“We are going to the Treasury to highlight the problems. In all of this, they are telling municipalities not to give salary increases to employees.

“We want the department of employment and labour to mediate between the workers and government. The department is supposed to intervene when employers are eating the money of workers.”

The Pretoria protesters will submit the memorandum at the National Treasury and then head to the department of employment and labour.

Hundreds of workers and taxi drivers marched in Cape Town, outlining their demands in a memorandum handed to the city, national government and provincial legislature. The demands included:

  • improved occupational health and safety standards;
  • addressing public transport issues; coupled with
  • a demand to subsidise taxis;
  • a halt on retrenchments; and
  • addressing the unemployment crisis.

"We are gathered here to express, on behalf of millions of workers and ordinary people, anger, frustration and united solidarity against the horrifying conditions we are all faced with," Cosatu provincial chair Motlatsi Tsubane said outside the civic centre.

He said there was frustration around claims about a lack of support and care for front-line health workers who risked their lives to protect the country against the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Sadly we have lost several to this pandemic because we put profits and the interests of the rich ahead of those workers and the poor," he said.

Minibus taxi drivers also attended the protest, and a large convoy of taxis ferried Cosatu members around town.

"The taxi industry remains the backbone of the public transport system. However, the sad fact is taxi drivers, guards and queue marshals have been left out of the scope for relief to the sector," Tsubane said.

Cosatu members marched to the Western Cape legislature during a national day of action on Wednesday.
Image: Aron Hyman Cosatu members marched to the Western Cape legislature during a national day of action on Wednesday.

He said the largely informal industry did not have the benefits enjoyed by employees in formal industries, such as unemployment insurance benefits.

The memorandum also declared a "turning point in the workers' struggle against corruption, retrenchments, gender-based violence and attacks on collective bargaining".

"We have been alarmed at the rate of increase in corruption and the impunity. Both the public and private sectors have demonstrated unbelievable levels of grand-scale corruption without regard for the suffering of our people and their needs," said Tsubane.

He accused law enforcement authorities of being slow to prosecute corrupt individuals.

"We call on the national director of public prosecutions to move with speed to increase the orange overalls brigade by putting away from society all those who steal from people and workers."

The trade union federation demanded that companies and the government comply with health and safety standards and provide workers with proper personal protective equipment.