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South African unions protest over corruption, job losses, wages

SOUTH Africa’s biggest trade union group, COSATU, urged members to stay away from work on Wednesday to protest about job losses, wage curbs and corruption cases.

Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa.

Labour unrest regularly affects South African companies in sectors like mining during negotiations over wages or layoffs, but it is rare for a union federation like COSATU to call a nationwide protest to press its demands.

The union group, which says it has more than 1 million members, is normally an ally of the governing African National Congress (ANC), although it has criticised the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, however, it said that the more than 2 million jobs lost in the second quarter was an indictment of the cabinet’s performance and it accused policymakers of presiding over “flagrant theft of taxpayer funds” after a spate of scandals.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said his government is finalising an economic recovery plan to stimulate a rebound in employment and has promised tough action to deal with those implicated in corruption.

His spokesman declined comment when contacted by Reuters about the union action.

COSATU is angry that the government did not raise civil servants’ salaries in April, as promised in a three-year wage deal struck in 2018 that the government now says is unaffordable.

It organised motorcades, pickets and marches around the country’s nine provinces on Wednesday, but it was not clear how many of its members had heeded the call to down tools.

The Department of Public Service and Administration said in a circular to government departments that the principle of “no work, no pay” would be applied to state employees who participated in the protest.

COSATU’s affiliate unions represent workers in the public and private sectors, in professions like teaching, healthcare, the police and mining.

State power utility Eskom, which has struggled to keep the lights on for years because of faults at its ailing coal-fired power stations, said it had contingency plans in place in case the protest affected its operations. –