Wide support for Cosatu strike

Cosatu appeared to have mustered wide support on Wednesday for its countrywide strike against toll fees and labour brokers.

Supermarket group Pick n Pay said over half of its staff did not report for work because of the strike.

“Between 50 to 70 percent of Pick n Pay staff across all regions did not report to work,” said Neal Quirk, operations director of the company.

Staffing gaps were filled with temporary staff to keep shops open for customers.

The SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Unions (Sactwu) claimed that around 62 percent of all clothing, textile, footwear and leather workers around the country took part in the strike.

By its calculation, around 62,000 out of 101,000 employed in that sector heeded the Congress of SA Trade Unions’ call.

“Sactwu denounces labour brokering as a form of human trafficking,” it said in a statement.

Cosatu went ahead with the strike despite Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s announcement that toll fees, which come into effect on April 30, would be capped at R550.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said of support in Johannesburg: “This is not a march. This is an occupation of the City of Johannesburg by the workers.”

Concerns had been raised about the impact of the march on health and education, but health departments across the country said they were mostly unaffected.

“The reports we have received are that staff showed up for work across the province,” KwaZulu-Natal health spokesman Chris Maxon said.

Mpumalanga health spokesman Dumisani Mlangeni said: “We have had some administrative staff not reporting for work, but it is minimal and has no effect on our operations.”

Democratic Alliance Gauteng health spokesman Jack Bloom said he had not had reports of any health facilities being affected.

Western Cape health department spokeswoman Helen Rossouw said that 29 out of 29,000 employees in that department took part.

National health department spokesman Fidel Hadebe said reports nationally indicated that the situation was normal.

“Health care is an essential service and health care practitioners understand this. Things are running as usual and we have not heard any complaints,” he said just before 1pm.

Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe said that by early Wednesday afternoon the electricity utility had received no reports of strike affects, but would receive a full update later on Wednesday.

There was a mixed response from the education sector, with most schools in the rural areas and townships of Limpopo affected. Schooling was mostly normal in the Northern Cape.

“Teachers and learners are at schools in most of the districts,” the province’s education spokesman Ohentse Stander said.

Western Cape education MEC Donald Grant said less than two percent of teachers had participated in the strike there and it seemed no pupils had marched.

In Khayelitsha and Gugulethu, in Cape Town, pupils were told to go home by their teachers, according to SABC news.

In the Free State’s five districts, only schools in Fezile Dabi, in the north, were affected, with 90 percent of the schools there closed.

In Gauteng, department spokesman Charles Phahlane said schooling proceeded smoothly in 12 of 15 districts.

“We are still waiting for reports from the other three districts. Our indication is that there were schools in the rural areas and townships that were affected.”

He said exam centres also ran smoothly.

Eastern Cape education department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said he had not received a single report of a school closure or disruption.

“I am still waiting for the official report, but it seems like everything proceeded as normal.”

Mining company Gold Fields said about 85 percent of its workforce did not arrive for work on Wednesday. However, most workers at Impala Platinum (Implats) did arrive for work.

Implats spokesman Johan Theron said this might be because the recent protracted stayaway over a bonus dispute at their Rustenburg operations had left workers out of pocket and unable to afford another day off.

The SA National Taxi Council said it would not strike as registered public transport providers would be exempt from the toll fees.

Delays were reported by the Airports Company SA at King Shaka International Airport in Durban. Metrorail, Metrobus and Interstate warned of possible service disruptions.

The Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) said it was opposed to tolls, but believed the matter should be settled within the labour market chamber of the National Economic Development and Labour Council.

Unlike Cosatu, Fedusa was not opposed to labour brokers and said banning them would cause job losses. It preferred tighter labour laws.