South Africans protest against exploitative labour

By Crystal Van Wyk

Posted on Wednesday, 7 March 2012 16:59

Tens of thousands of South Africans on Wednesday marched against labour brokering, a practice which they equate to modern day slavery.

Labour brokering is a contentious issue in Africa’s biggest economy and thousands of people heeded a call by the labour federation, Cosatu to take to the streets to voice their anger and frustration. They called for the government to ban the practice.

The workers, mainly Cosatu members were clad in colourful red t-shirts, waving ANC and Cosatu banners throughout the different cities across the country. Early this year, the union launched an independent body, Corruption Watch to hold public and private officials to account.

Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi said labour brokering had serious financial consequences on the working class in South Africa. “Some government leaders have forgotten their roots and should realise the power of the working masses,” Vavi said.

Labour brokering is a practice where an employer and a broker, mainly an employment agency, agree on a contract and conditions of employment for someone, without including that person in the negotiations.

Cosatu said it sees “labour brokering as a form of human trafficking”. Union leaders say, “It feeds off workers, robbing them of a decent income, denying them job security and converting humans into simple commodities that can be discarded at will.”

“Labour brokering does not contribute to the sustainable development of our industry since it adds to the de-skilling of workers with short-term, irregular and uncertain contracts with indecent employment practises,” Cosatu affiliate, the Southern African Textile Workers Union, said in a statement.

The National Association of Bargaining Councils estimates that there are 979,539 workers that have been employed through labour brokering in the country. Cosatu claims South Africa has the widest income gap in the world. They argue that the richest person in the country earns about 94 times more than the poorest.

Black South Africans, who constitute 79.4 percent of the population, account for only 41.2 percent of the household income from work and social grants, whereas whites, who account only for 9.2 percent of the population, receive 45.3 percent of income.

The poorest tenth of the population share R1.1 billion, while the richest 10 percent R381 billion. Cosatu argues that the country is “trapped” in a developmental paradigm that has simply reproduced these conditions for 18 years since the dawn of a democratic South Africa in 1994.

In terms of the union’s expanded definition unemployment is currently at 35.4 percent and half the population survives on 8 per cent of national income while the other half enjoys 92 per cent.

Cosatu also voiced anger at the inadequacy of public of transport, accusing the government of privatising public roads. According to Police estimates, some 80 000 South Africans took part in the protests. Cosatu says 200 000 people went out on the streets.

The government will soon introduce e-tolling, where motorists pay for using some freeways in Johannesburg.

Also read:

South Africa: Cosatu declares war on corruption
Cosatu vows to fight Info Bill, appeals to Jacob Zuma
Info Bill Passes Through South Africa’s Parliament
Country profile: SOUTH AFRICA

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