Lockdown is killing the labour movement

Some trade unions are likely to exit this lockdown crippled.
‘Sabotage’ … calls for lifting the lockdown grow more shrill by the day. Image: Moneyweb

Nothing breaks the spirit of the labour movement like retrenchments, and there were enough of those over the last 12 months, even before the Covid-19 outbreak.

This is why union members pay their monthly dues. They expect their union leaders to guard their interests in good and especially bad times. Those leaders are now being tested as never before.

Last week the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) said the lockdown was “diabolical” and called for its immediate lifting to arrest the devastation caused to business and employment.

As jobs are lost, so too are union members.

A few months ago, some business leaders may have cheered a weaker labour movement but, oddly enough, on the lockdown they now appear to be of one mind. The calls for lifting the lockdown grow more shrill by the day.

Last month the South African Reserve Bank said the economy could lose 370 000 jobs,  and 1 600 companies, as a result of the lockdown. That’s a rather hopeful view. Business for South Africa says the economy could contract by 16% this year and see four million jobs lost. The only way to avoid this outcome is for a rapid easing of lockdown restrictions.

Read: Kingston calls for faster reopening of SA economy

The longer the lockdown, the more devastating it is for organised labour. “Workers are being furloughed, and many have been retrenched, and this means they are unable to pay their union dues,” says Nactu secretary-general Narius Moloto. “So, in addition to shutting down thousands of businesses, small and large, this lockdown represents the greatest threat to our freedoms since the birth of democracy in SA.

“In one fell swoop, the decades of struggle for workers’ rights have been nullified,” says Moloto.

“It now appears the government has massively overreacted to this virus.

“Like most South Africans, we were initially cautiously supportive of President [Cyril] Ramaphosa’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus, but the costs to the country are now becoming clearer.

“The lockdown now begins to take on the shape of sabotage, and there must be accountability for government ministers who have crashed the economy while still drawing their state salaries, paid for by taxpayers,” says Moloto.

Like many others bearing the brunt of this crisis, he is furious over the lockdown. He says government ministers are completely insulated by their cushy salaries from the travails of ordinary South Africans, many of whom have no food.

If there’s one ray of hope in all this, it’s that trade union representatives have now been allowed to resume work – in other words, to represent workers.

But there is scant celebration in this: workers in many sectors have not been paid by their employers. A survey by the National Employers Association of SA (Neasa), representing roughly 10 000 small and medium-sized businesses, shows that only 47% of employers that had applied for Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) relief had received funds, and often only partial payments. This scheme was set up by government to ensure employers could pay their workers during lockdown.

Read: Employers ‘angry, frustrated, horrified’ by Ters process

Some trade unions will fare better than others. Those in the mining sector, 50% of whose members have been recalled to work, should be able to survive with some dignity. So too the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), and the trade unions servicing public sector workers.

Those likely to feel the pain include the Building Construction and Allied Workers Union, where it is estimated that up to 30% of jobs could be lost if there is a prolonged lockdown, and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) – also facing a potential barrage of retrenchments.

Most unions suffering … but silent

What Moloto finds particularly troubling is that while the lockdown is also killing the labour movement, most trade unions are silent on the long-term impacts, and are actually applauding the government’s “massive overkill”. While many unions have been critical of aspects of the lockdown, few have challenged the devastating impact to their membership over the long term.

In April the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) brought a court case against the government to impose industry-wide safety standards to protect workers from the Covid-19 virus, but later withdrew this when lockdown exemptions granted to 129 mines were passed into law. It later supported the government’s plan to allow mines to ramp up to 50% production, provided workers’ safety was not imperilled.

On Friday, the National Union of Mineworkers berated those companies issuing Section 189 notices (in terms of the Labour Relations Act) to retrench workers. “Our position is that 50% of the workers that have not been recalled must be paid either by the companies or through the [UIF] relief fund, said the union in a statement.

Conflicting concerns for health worker union

Last week Nehawu, many of whose members are at the frontline in battling the virus, expressed concern over the number of healthcare workers infected by Covid-19. Health department figures show that 511 staff working in the sector had become infected and 26 were receiving treatment. But while a chorus of South Africans has called for an easing in lockdown regulations, Nehawu urged government not to relax restrictions on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol, so as not to overburden the health care sector.

According to research by the Southern Africa – Towards Inclusive Economic Development (SA-Tied) programme, the sectors most likely to suffer from a protracted lockdown are construction (about 30% job losses), and finance and manufacturing, which could see a 15% reduction in annual employment.

Source: SA-Tied

Moloto says the already-precarious status of construction workers due to weak investment in the sector may now suffer irreparable harm due to the lockdown. The only way out of this is for government to initiate a massive infrastructure programme to reclaim some of the jobs lost.

Read: Covid-19 impact on construction sector will be ‘catastrophic’

A Neasa survey among its members shows that only 18% currently support the lockdown, though the initial support was overwhelming.

“It is time for bold, honest and very strong leadership,” says CEO Gerhard Papenfus. “Those with ulterior motives need to be exposed.

“The political leadership may decide to continue to cultivate the current narrative, but that will result in an even more rapid erosion of trust.”

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Interesting that the return of 1,5m workers is cited as 40% of the labour force.

That would put the full labour force at 3,75m workers or about 6% of the total population. Meaning that we have 94% unemployment figure, a 94% non participation rate.

So while government congratulates itself on putting the country back to work, clearly they are missing the hoard of informal workers who are now starving without any government assistance.

you’re including kids and pensioners in that non-participation rate – is that your intention? Should SA consider having kids work in factories to improve the employment figures?

Not a very intelligent response, is it? In civilized, advanced countries, the unemployment rate is around 6%, not 94%.

MkhontokaShaka …perhaps if there were surplus jobs to available jobs…

But as South Africa has no jobs …your comment is mute

A snide comment perhaps. With some deliberate otherwiseness sprinkled in. But mathematically correct. You cannot divide by the total population. Children, retirees and those choosing not to work (eg housewives) can and should not be factored in.

Will this still result in a scary number , yes. But not 94%

If you want to comment on the tone of voice, that is your prerogative, but acknowledge he/she is factually correct, albeit that it does not fit the OPs narrative.

Can’t see how you arrive at your assertion from the initial comment.

The labour force is not the only part of employment statistics. Management and entrepreneurs and small business owners and fund managers surely don’t get classified as unemployed.

Obvious NEHAWU does not represent the 100% that would loose their jobs in the cigarette and alcohol industries.

In Typical fashion just thinking about themselves.

I am against the lockdown but as far as I am concerned it can continue until x-mas if these union scum can be put in their place.

Only thinking about membership and contributions.


No jobs to be lost in the cigarette industry- it is functional at 80% of sales – Only seriously honest/stupid smokers are going without!!!!!

Cigarette production is “allowed” as I understand it but only for “export”. Brown envelopes must be heaping up in the ANC and NDZ post boxes.

The union parasites have damaged South Africa severely in the past , are a political tool and a feeding mechanism for their apparatchiks. Their weakening or demise would be a positive factor if ever there might be a recovery.

Yes, of course the unions are furious: they are losing their lovely workers’ dues that enabled them to live the good life.

Well let’s hope so, if the unions can be removed then the big reset can begin. Abolish minimum wage, millions would have work especially farm labor, that would reduce the inputs there but I doubt the middleman and the PnP’s of this world would reduce anything.

And then we have trade unions like the teachers’ union, SADTU, and no doubt other public servants’ unions too, who have no desire whatsoever to see their nice paid holiday ending, and are coming up with all sorts of increasingly absurd excuses why they cannot return to work and why the private sector must continue to pay their grotesque salaries. One of these excuses is for example that their places of work must be sanitized first, except the virus could not possibly have survived for longer than 40 days, since the lock-down began, in any office or classroom.

The ‘shape of sabotage’ started with ANCcorruption, the lockdown just reshaped the form of ANCsabbotage.

There has never been accountability, just entitlement. No Govt or SOE employees, just depolyees.

Accountability is something that is felt inwardly and expressed with the work output. The labour movement have been complicit in the patronage system, but this lockdown is breaking it ironically as the money dries up.

We all agree on that one! This is the unavoidable outcome for all collectivist organisations. Collectivism = unaccountability= corruption and cadre-deployment.

Bullocks. The percentage of the workforce that belongs to a union is important. There might be less members but the percentage will stay the same. The lip service and threats from the unions will stay the same.

So Mr. Moloto is a bit miffed at the government ministers who are still drawing their salaries at the expense of the taxpayers. Sounds a bit like the pot calling the kettle black Mr. Moloto. Remember how you still enjoyed being paid your full salary from union dues that were collected while your members were on strike for no pay?

For me the biggest thing we should learn from and avoid in the future, both as companies and individuals is BIGGER SAFETY NETS.

It shocked me how many companies and individuals cannot deal with a sixweek-long interruption. There is a case to be made for SARS to enforce a reserve by way of a small percentage of profits or net income and which can be drawn against in disasters. The reserve is not a tax and is not available for state budget purposes. Yes, company boards should secure adequate reserves, but clearly they don’t. Yes, households should save for a rainy day, but clearly they don’t.

Competition is the creative force that drives the efficiency of the free-market economy. This competitive force constantly erodes the profit margin up to the point where a business that is closed for one working day runs the risk of falling through the floorboards.

The market system did not evolve under circumstances of lockdown and therefore, the profit margins and the cashflow cannot survive lockdown. Only the Demand Economy with its inbuilt inefficiencies can survive lockdown and only until it runs out of tax revenue. Then the demand economy implodes anyway.

Competition drives efficiency but it increases fragility and makes businesses highly susceptible to outside shocks.

This sounds like something Mr Patel might dream up.

A potentially gigantic fund, controlled by government. And it has to be liquid, so it can’t be invested in the economy or in equity markets which would collapse in a disaster. But cash would likely be at risk if inflation picks up, so the only option is for it to buy…government debt.

So what this amounts to is prescribed assets. It ends up being available for state budget purposes whether you like it or not.

If the private sector had the capacity to insure for a disaster this size it would probably have done so already, but the insurance industry would face the same problem of investment and liquidity as a state-controlled fund.

Cheetah and others:

Unfortunately the way things presently work is :

In good times (high resource prices, great crop yields and prices, times of growth, etc basically EXTERNALITIES) the companies make lots of money. So the boards pay big bonuses and shareholders get big dividends, buy back a lot of shares. Lekker.

Then bad times come. Now the same staff and suppliers that the good times depended on are the first casualties. Companies decide not to pay rent, decide they will take an extra 60 day terms, short-time the staff, declare business rescue.

There needs to be a statutory reserve or a way that bonuses and dividends are callable for repayment in bad times. It need not be SARS run. We have thirty million accounting rules. LET’S ADD ONE THAT SAYS A COMPANY MUST HAVE A CASH-BACKED NON DISTRIBUTABLE RESERVE EQUAL TO 60 DAYS OPERATING COST?

If this system continues for a few more pandemics and disasters, the only companies left standing will be the monster sized too big to fail and SOE

“There is a case to be made for SARS to enforce a reserve” NO WAY! The gov and SARS need to butt out and stop meddling in peoples lives. They are not dealing with prepubescent kids, adults must take responsibility, it cannot be made mandatory to be responsible. Irresponsibility, greed and stupidity have there own natural consequences – suffering.

The “adults” you refer to voted the ANC into Govt so quite how u expect these People to now take responsibility is unfathomable; They are Clueless .

I see the criticism and understand it but rather Johan, let is be voluntary but encouraged by SARS with tax credits. Ha ha.

I’m no fan of either,but Ramaphosa is no better than than Zuma,in fact he is worse than Zuma.Since he took over things have only gotten worse.

He is continuing where Zuma left off,destroying what is left of SA economy.

Mr Moloto might be the proverbial POT.

However, i would not dismiss what he says out of hand. He makes some very valid points, this lock down could never have been achieved without consensus from the Unions. As he stated they (the unions) were cautiously supportive in the beginning but that cautious support is now unravelling at an alarming rate. How long will comments stating that it “appears” the government has massively over reacted – change to they have clearly massively over reacted and are killing far more people than they could ever have hoped to save, even if the worst predictions came true – not very long.

We all had to be cautiously supportive in the beginning, but now the science and data is becoming overwhelming, to the point that even a complete idiot is now questioning the over reaction and the narrative when realistically placed beside the real data. What we did not know much about 2 months ago, we now know a hell of a lot more now.

Nearly 5 weeks ago, i posted the stats for Africa as a continent, it had reported cases of approx. 12,812 and 800 deaths. As of last night the cases have grown to 60,000 and the deaths to ONLY 2,200! This is 5 weeks later. Something is clearly very different and much better in Africa and needs to be very rapidly addressed and investigated. There are many things in our favour, that are being shown to combat this mild infection.

– Vitamin D created by an abundance of sunshine
– average age on the continent under 25, RSA 27 this is critical
– huge swathes of the billion + continent have had the BCG vaccine
– relative and real heat

I can go into far more technical detail and on each of the above but so can everyone else, it is readily available.

The bottom line, the 5 problem children of the COVID 19 from a statistics perspective are ITALY/ FRANCE/ SPAIN/ UK/ USA (they also house and control 97% of the global media and as such the global narrative – with 6 + 7 below). These countries have collapsed health care systems and forced decades of healthcare austerity. Most importantly, they have never had any BCG vaccination programmes, or if they did for very limited periods. Their populace on average is 30-35 years older than Africas, yes more than double. The diets and obesity, heart disease, diabetes etc rates in these countries are also shocking. 2 other countries to add on as they or largely responsible with the other 5 in deciding GLOBAL POLICY, are GERMANY and BELGIUM (which btw has the worst death rate in the world per 1m people at something approaching 800). These 7 countries make up 9% of EARTHs population, yet have recorded 80% of the deaths to date. So why do they get to dictate that Thailand (56 deaths) implode their tourism industry and economy, or Mozambique (0 deaths) … or anyone else for that matter!

Remove these 7 countries from the stats and the WORLD has ONLY 64,000 deaths and 1,5m cases. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Another point is that in the 5 problem children and the 6th Belgium (home to the mighty EU/ECB and large offices for the UN/WHO/WFP), including places like NYC etc, the death rates in the beginning were doubling every 3-5 days, but that is clearly not happening in Africa or anywhere else. If it were, South Africa would be on about 6,400 deaths now, not 206. Africa as a continent would be on 206,000 now, not 2,025! Look at the science Mr President and the data – please.

Lock down does not work, period. Case in point Sweden, without lock down the disgraced Professor pants down as he is now referred to, from Imperial college and who’s model largely dictated the global lock down and the WHO response, would have now had 40,000 deaths, not the 3,200 they are on. Another case in point the Diamond Princess (they had standard Japanese health care and suffered only a 17% infection rate and 13 deaths out of 3,750 people), these are 2 real thorns in the 7 countries above global agenda and fraud. Japan another enigma for the global elite, population 130 million and only 654 deaths!!! (to put this into perspective, compare this to the UK of 66 million and 32,000 dead, their death rate on a per capita basis is only 1% of the UK – GULP). Their economy is largely open like Sweden, admittedly they have a great health care system and their population is generally MUCH healthier and lighter than their western counterparts. But the country is extremely crowded, as is India and Africa – why are they all doing so relatively well!?

When do African and Asian leaders start to question the 7 nations of western agenda driven porkers, dictating the world into economic devastation?

Lock down does not work, or even slow the spread or flatten the curve, it only kills. Look at NYC a global epicentre, they have shown that 61% of covid 19 admissions came from locked down households. A week or so ago, they tested randomly 500,000 ‘healthy’ New Yorkers, over 22% tested positive for the anti bodies, meaning they have had it and in 95% of cases were unaware, the other 5%, recall some slight symptoms but nothing warranting going to hospital. Other states and cities on random healthy testing are showing between 6%-11% covid already prevalent in the populace (ie had it and didn’t notice).

This covid 19 Shetland pony bolted long ago, likely 2 flu seasons ago, but certainly was already ploughing through the global population as early as October 2019, as does any flu. So most countries reacted in locking down literally 7-14 days before the peak and likely after the peak, a total waste of time – but i suspect the 7 knew that.

We are all told that this was not about preventing the virus, even the biggest idiot of a politician and members of the sheeple hanging on their every word, knew this was about not overwhelming the health care systems and ‘flattening the curve’, a term i despise as much as ‘social distancing’ another fallacy. Please show me one health care system that became overwhelmed – NONE! In the panic the USA built multi thousand bed critical care field units, never used any, the UK did the same with their Nightingale project, 9 hospitals several thousand beds never used.

Guess what, the 5 problem children mentioned above have been overwhelmed before as in just about every flu season for the last 5 years. I have been in an Italian hospital in 2018 February visiting a friend who broke their leg, i thought a bomb had gone off, – total chaos, i asked a doctor what the hell was going on, he just smiled and said welcome to Italy, isa tha flu season and wandered off carefree. Every year the NHS is crucified over lack of flu capacity especially in bad seasons, same as certain areas of NYC, France, Spain. It was never front page news then. The real beast was the 1967/68 Hong Kong flu they called it – 80,000 perished in the UK, today we are on 32k. In the USA it was well over 300k, the other 3 problem countries suffered like the UK, the death toll was far higher, yet we were not doing what we are doing now.

You are starting to see the reaction to this madness, now manifesting globally in escalating violent protests. In 2-4 weeks this will become uncontainable and explosive – I find it strange (not) that no global mainstream media outlet, unless i have missed it, has not commented on the fact that RSA has deployed all 75,460 of its troops onto the streets – speak to any old man or woman here, they will tell you we have gone back into the depths of apartheid hell in the 80`s. One can only speculate as to how soon, the matching violent clashes between the security forces and the starving and forcibly oppressed populace will commence?

The sooner the African and Asian leaders, commanding approx. 70% of the global population, tell the chubby b#ggers from the USA, UK and the EU to GO TO HELL, the better – in my opinion.

Hawu siyabonga Romulus, I’ve never ever read such an insightful piece on this madness; I hope the fools are reading and can open the economy asap!

The really curious thing is the *crickets* from organised labour/labour law experts/the media about businesses’ unilateral decision to cut salaries/wages. To my knowledge, the government has not issued any regulation/waiver that suspends the BCEA. The assumption, I suspose, is that normal salaries will be resume once the lockdown ends. But will they? And, in the absence of any rejection from labour/employees, contracts of employment have effectively novated, allowing employers to argue that the lower salaries are the “new normal”.

Here’s a conundrum that I can’t get my head around – if you
Google for entry points into the body that this virus can enter it also includes the eyes. Yet looking at the cover-up practiced by most people he face mask excludes the eyes. So if the populations leaves the eyes as a potential entry point then surely these doctors and experts should be advocating full facial protection which tend to support the units which fit the head and have a clear plastic visor from ear to ear and stretches below the chin.
Using these cloth masks will not stop the pandemic under current conditions and it will merely be re transmitted as is happening in Wuhan at present

The point of the mask is to limit the amount of droplets / aerosols escaping into the air in the first place – ie to prevent people from spreading it so easily, not (directly) to prevent them from catching it. Wearing a face mask is for everyone’s benefit but the wearer’s – if everyone does it, there is a reciprocal benefit for everyone.

Eyes are definitely a neglected point of vulnerability. No medical lab technician (amongst numerous other workers, skilled or otherwise, in potentially sensitive environments) is allowed to work without eye protection.

Size of gap between fibres in a cloth mask (irrespective of number of layers) is never finer that 2000 to 10 000 nanometres. Size of COVID-19 virus is 2 nm. That’s like you getting through a gap from Parktown to Sandton.

But the exhaled droplets / aerosols carrying the virus, which is what the masks are intended to block, are generally in the range 500 to 12 000 nm.

And the labour movement is killing jobs and the economy.

Killing the Labour Unions would likely revive the Economy immediately :
These useless Unions wield far too much Power : They are now demanding (obviously)above inflationary increases paid from the CORONAVIRUS FUND set up by Govt !!!!!
They need to be Thatchered ASAP :

The clear and present danger is that 750,000 people pay 75% of ALL personal income tax.

Mass retrenchments inside that 75% places the entire finances of the country into immediate long term crisis with no ability to have the 750,000 continuing to support tens of millions of others. An end to the socialist system we can and never could afford.

We need to face up to it. We have ANC’d ourselves into an unrecoverable fiscal position based on ideology and policy that has failed all over the world. Never has worked and will never work.

Cap in hand to the IMF with some proper policies enforced by them and no more “Comrade this and comrade that” is the only option left to us.

In fact, last year SARS acknowledged that 95% of all taxes were paid by fewer than 3 million people (out of 57 million). Subtract that lot from SA, and the result would be utter catastrophe. No social grants, even worse healthcare, rotten road maintenance, even lousier education for the masses. On the plus side, it would mean a lot of ANC head honchos would have to join food queues.

End of comments.





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