Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA) – The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Labour Desk marches to Tshwane House in Pretoria, South Africa, on June 7, 2021. The Labour Desk has assisted thousands of workers better than even their trade unions, saving the jobs of many, says the writer.
By Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi
The preamble to the founding manifesto of the Economic Freedom Fighters states that “Our decision is to fight for the economic emancipation of the people of South Africa, Africa and the world”.
A key component of that struggle for economic emancipation of the people is embedding the right of workers to a living wage, to fair and humane working conditions and to a just administrative system whenever there are conflicts between workers and employers.
This deep commitment to the wellbeing of workers is in the DNA of the EFF. Our leaders were the only political leaders at the forefront of engaging and supporting the workers in Marikana when they downed tools and demanded R12,500 as wages for their backbreaking labour in the mines.
This year marks 10 years since that revolutionary industrial action by the mineworkers of Marikana, which was characterised as a “dastardly criminal act” by Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, justifying the use of the machinery of the state to assassinate the mineworkers, leaving behind orphans and widows.
It was the EFF that took over this struggle for the emancipation of all workers, and when we arrived in Parliament in 2014, our very first motion was for parliament to intervene in making R12,500 a minimum wage for all those working in the mines.
We also argued for the improvement of the living conditions of mineworkers, as well as better security for these workers. Needless to say, the ruling party rejected that motion in 2014, and their leaders continued to mock the memory of the murdered workers of Marikana.
Since our formation, our offices across the country, in Parliament and at our headquarters are constantly inundated with pleas for assistance by workers from all walks of life. The EFF, despite not being a labour union, has constantly responded to each and every one of these pleas, assisting thousands of workers who were unfairly treated at work, those who were fired with no valid reason, those who had been subjected to racism.
The increasing demand for our intervention on labour related matters led to the organisation taking a decision to establish a Labour Desk. The work of the Labour Desk has far surpassed the work that many registered unions do for their workers. We have intervened in almost every sector of our economy, forcing employers to rehire unfairly dismissed workers, dealing with racist conduct by many of these white companies head on, and ensuring that the most vulnerable workers, that is petrol attendants, construction workers, mineworkers, and those employed by labour brokers are given support they would not necessarily have.
From 2020 to date, the Labour Desk has resolved about 96,895 cases involving hundreds of thousands of workers. It was the EFF in the main that tied the struggle waged by students for fees to fall at universities with the plight of university workers, many of whom were employed under repressive labour broker conditions.
Consequently, many universities have since insourced these workers, and allowed them the same benefits other university workers are entitled to, including bursaries for the children of these workers. The struggle for insourcing workers did not end there.
Where the EFF’s vote was needed to constitute municipal leadership after the 2016 local government elections, one of the positions we argued for strongly was for the insourcing of workers, such as security guards, cleaners and gardeners. Many of these municipalities, such as the City of Johannesburg and many others adopted EFF sponsored motions and insourced workers. The insourcing of workers is the most logical means of not only saving money, but of ensuring that workers are not abused.
It is mind boggling that the ruling party has not legislated for the complete eradication of the system of labour brokers in this country. While all these are significant, perhaps the most vulnerable of all the workers in the country are those working and staying on farms. It was in recognition of the precarious conditions of these workers that the EFF in Parliament tabled a motion for the establishment of an ad hoc committee to investigate the working and living conditions of farmworkers in the country, and then to recommend legislative changes and advise the executive on immediate action that can be taken to prevent the abuse of farmworkers and ensure that these workers are remunerated accordingly.
While the ruling party opted to object to the establishment of a special committee to deal with these problems, Parliament eventually tasked the committees dealing with labour and employment, as well as agriculture, rural development and land reform to conduct this assessment of the working and living conditions of farmworkers.
These committees are currently going all around the country doing this work, and it is shameful that many members of Parliament(MPs) seem to be shocked only now at the inhumane conditions farmworkers are forced to work under by white farmers.
While the country has a chronic problem of unemployment, the reality is that many of those who are employed are not paid a living wage, and many cannot afford basic household necessities, do not earn enough to look after the needs of their children. They wake up every day to do back-breaking work that sustains this economy, but are remunerated with peanuts.
The struggle for a living wage is an equally important struggle too, and the EFF is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that workers are remunerated well, treated well, and work under humane conditions.
It therefore comes as no surprise that many people have called on the EFF to establish a fully registered trade union organisation in order not to have limits in terms of what the movement can do in assisting workers. This proposal for the establishment of a trade union is receiving serious consideration in the EFF, but this does not stop us from continuing being a reliable ally of workers in the country.
As long as the EFF exists, workers from all corners of the country have a fighting ally on their side.
Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi is a member of the EFF’s central command team, head of its Labour Desk and an MP.