'Social pact' to turn SA economy around
18 October 2012
The government, business and labour, led by President Jacob Zuma, have announced an "action package" of measures to prevent the spread of strikes, improve confidence in the economy, and remove obstacles to sustainable job creation and development in the country.
On Wednesday, Zuma met with senior government, business, labour and community leaders in Pretoria, following an initial meeting on Friday, to discuss the recent wave of unprotected strikes that have led to two successive downgrades of South Africa's credit ratings.
'One voice, strong confidence'
Addressing journalists after the meeting, Zuma said: "We have emerged today with one voice, one message and strong confidence in our capacity as a society to address the immediate challenges we face and to lay the basis for long-term growth and job creation."
Zuma called on workers engaged in unprotected strikes to return to work "as soon as possible", and for violence and intimidation during industrial action to come to an end.
At the same time, he announced an "action package" of interventions to address both workers' legitimate grievances and the "underlying social pressures" behind the wave of strikes, and to build a social partnership for sustainable growth and job creation in the country.
And, as a signal of commitment to building an equitable economy, the parties to Wednesday's talks called on South Africa's public and private sector CEOs and executive directors to agree to a 12-month freeze in salary increases and bonuses.
Return to stability, production on mines
"We are agreed that the industrial relations environment in the mining sector must be normalised as a matter of priority," Zuma said, adding that South Africa's collective bargaining system was broadly sound and that "the integrity of the system must be defended.
"We call on workers who are engaged in unprotected strikes to return to work as soon as possible and for production in the mining industry to be normalised."
Zuma called for an end to violence and intimidation, saying that workers' constitutionally protected rights to protest and strike "must be exercised peacefully".
"We will not compromise on this," the President said, adding that the government, business and labour were in full support of lawful action by the authorities "to stabilise communities and normalise daily life across all communities".
Worker grievances, challenges
At the same time, Zuma assured workers "that we recognise the frustrations and challenges that have become clearer during the protests, and the legitimate grievances will be attended to.
"These include addressing the housing needs of mining communities; the pressures on wages caused by high levels of personal debt; and the challenge of high income and wage disparities that create resentment and limit our social cohesion as South Africans."
The government and its social partners had developed an "action package" covering a number of interventions to address these issues, Zuma said, hastening to distinguish the package from the "many accords and social agreements" that had been reached in the past.
"[W]e want this to be different in the speed and focus of our implementation. We will monitor implementation at the highest level, with ministers and social partner leaders meeting regularly and reporting to me."
Action package, new partnership
The package includes measures to accelerate the country's state-led infrastructure drive "to create jobs and provide the basis for social inclusion and growth"; to improve the living conditions of mining communities; to address the challenges faced by workers and companies affected by the global economic slowdown; and to curb the growth of reckless lending.
A new partnership would be established to "urgently address the development of sustainable human settlements in key mining districts of South Africa," including Rustenburg, Lephalale, Emalahleni, the West Rand, Welkom, Klerksdorp and Carletonville.
The Presidency was setting up a task team to plan and co-ordinate this partnership, which would address blockages to such developments at municipal level, look to integrate local urban development initiatives with the national infrastructure drive, and harness "the considerable resources that mining companies have made available to meet their commitments under the Mining Charter".
Tackling income inequality
Zuma said all parties to Wednesday's talks had agreed "that steps need to be taken urgently to address the large income inequalities in South Africa, which are a primary risk to our future as a sustainable and successful society.
"The parties make a call on CEOs and executive directors in the private sector and senior executives in the public sector to agree to a freeze in increases in salary and bonuses over the next 12 months, as a strong signal of a commitment to build an equitable economy."
At the same time, the parties called for "an informed national conversation on income inequalities and how best to address them", and would be setting up a committee to consider the local and international context and to develop proposals within the next six months.
"We will also work to conclude the youth employment accord, monitor the implementation of accords concluded last year and also continue the dialogue on social security and health reform," Zuma said.
The package was "a step towards a wider process to use social dialogue to build a common vision on jobs, growth, social equity and development.
"I now call on all South Africans to join me, with the leadership of our business organisations, the trade union movement and community organisations, to work together to make this initiative a success," Zuma said.
"We have a responsibility to our country, our common future, to act as one."
The parties to Wednesday's talks were led by the presidents of Business Unity South Africa and the Black Business Council; the leaders of trade unions Cosatu, Fedusa and Nactu and the overall convenor of the community constituency at Nedlac, and Cabinet ministers from the economic sector.