Melanie Veness: PCB CEO
This past week the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business hosted Johannesburg-based KMM Review Publishing Company’s KZN launch of the book “Cosatu in Crisis” edited by Vishwas Satgar and Roger Southall.
The book is a compilation of chapters penned by various academics with a history of association with the progressive labour movement in South Africa. It offers insight into the history and current state of affairs in the union environment.
The thing that stood out for me, was Roger Southall describing how public sector union representation had grown exponentially in recent years.
He said that between 2005 and 2012, when the private sector was shedding jobs, due to the world economic crisis, the number of state employees in central and provincial government had grown by 27%. The strength of the public sector unions is well demonstrated by the fact that, despite total state employment only having increased by 13% during this period, average per capita remuneration doubled during that time, and the wage bill increased by 76%.
One has to question whether it is reasonable (or possible) for government to effectively negotiate with their alliance partners. The fact is, that this unsustainable swelling of the public sector has resulted in Treasury’s inability to meet the public sector wage bill. The 2015/2016 above-budget wage agreement shortfall nationally is a startling R12.6 billion. The R5 billion in the contingency reserve will be used to make up some of the shortfall in the current year, and Treasury will have to find the balance, but how will future shortfalls be funded?
The highlight of the morning for many, was the fascinating, hold-no-punches address by the federation’s former General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, who wrote the foreword for the book.
Vavi expressed his personal views, aligning the collapse of Cosatu with what he called “the slide of our country towards a failed state”.
He described a subversive agenda, and how organisations that have raised reservations about our current leadership have been re-organised and how dissenting voices have been “managed off the scene” and replaced with a “choir of praise singers”. He stated that the collapse of Cosatu was designed, and that sadly, all that the powerful families and people in government currently cared about, was securing opportunities to “feed at the trough”.
When asked what role Business should be playing, Vavi wasted no time in saying that business leaders needed to complain loudly about corruption and the crisis in our government, lest they be remembered for having been complicit in the downfall. “Our country”, he said, “is a ticking time bomb”.