Opening remarks by SAMWU President, Nelson Mokgotho at the union’s National Collective Bargaining Conference, Johannesburg, 15 March 2021.

15 March 2021.

Opening remarks by SAMWU President, Nelson Mokgotho at the union’s National Collective Bargaining Conference, Johannesburg, 15 March 2021.

Chairperson of the session, 1st Deputy President, Comrade Mluleki Mbhele

Second Deputy President, Comrade Portia Nkuna

National Treasurer, Comrade Nwabisa Majova

Deputy General Secretary, Comrade Dumisane Magagula

1st Deputy President of COSATU, Comrade Mike Shingage

Guests to this Conference

Delegates to this Conference

And Staff of the union.

Good morning, Thobela!

Chairperson, we are meeting here just a few days after we woke up to the terrible news of the passing away of Ndabezitha, King Goodwill Zwelithini. Please allow me to convey our heartfelt condolences to the Zwelithini family and the entire Zulu nation.

Delegates, this is the first constitutional meeting convened after the much successful 12th National Congress held in December 2020.

The 12th National Congress was convened under difficult situations and circumstances, despite this, SAMWU emerged victorious.

Comrades, as you can see, the leadership collective that you elected at the 12th National Congress is not complete due to passing away of the General Secretary, Comrade Koena Ramotlou, may his revolutionary spirit continue resting in peace.

Chairperson, today we should be proud of ourselves as SAMWU that after many setbacks as a result of Disaster Management Act regulations, we are finally convening this Collective Bargaining Conference under the theme; “Advancing and defending our gains towards comprehensive social security”

I must stress Chairperson that this is the first time in the history of this organization that a National Collective Bargaining Conference is held. This is an important milestone which we should all be proud of.

Chairperson, in their wisdom, delegates to the 12th National Congress resolved that this Conference should be convened before salary and wage negotiations commence.

This is an important resolution which will craft our posture and demands as we are about to start with salary and wage negotiations in both the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) and the Amanzi Bargaining Council (ABC).

Most importantly Chairperson, we must use this conference to prepare ourselves for the tough times that lay ahead. We need to put on our boots and be combat ready in defense of collective bargaining.

We know that collective bargaining is under attack by our very own government which we campaigned for, using workers’ money. The very same poor workers whose resources bankrolled the campaign of this government are now being shown the middle finger by the government which they elected to power.

Chairperson, probably we need to remind our government that collective bargaining is protected by law. It is a product of the sweat and blood of workers!

We will be doing an injustice to our forebearers if we fold our arms and do nothing while collective bargaining in under attack. The ancestors of this union and those of COSATU will punish us if we do not come together as workers and defend this gain.

This is the time for all workers, across all sectors and unions to unite for a common purpose and enemy which is the National Treasury.

We have all seen what government did to our fellow workers in public service. Denying them salary increases despite a salary and wage agreement that is in place.

The very same National Treasury went further to add that these workers will not be receiving any increase until 2024.

As SAMWU, we must be solidarity with our fellow workers. “an injury to one is an injury to all”

Comrades, we are convening here today when the country is still facing the Covid-19 pandemic. We should all play our role in ensuring that we minimize the impact and the transmission of the virus.

This pandemic has affected and changed the way we do things. Over 120 million people have contracted the virus worldwide, in South Africa alone, over 1,5 million people have contracted the virus with over 51 000 deaths recorded.

Comrades, municipal workers have not been immune from this pandemic, over 14 000 municipal workers have contracted this virus, over 200 deaths of workers in our sector have been recorded.

Many of these workers would have not contracted the virus or died had it not been the negligence of employers who continually sent workers to slaughterhouses.

Let us not forget that the health and safety of workers remain the responsibility of the employer.

Our fight and demand for a covid-19 allowance cannot stop now, in fact this Conference must come out of here and reaffirm the resolution of the 12th National Congress that all workers in the forefront should be paid a covid allowance.

Chairperson, we must commend the work that has been done by structures of the union in exposing municipalities and water boards that were taking workers to slaughterhouses.

We must commend the work that had been done to ensure that municipalities and water boards provide workers with the necessary PPE for the safe execution of their duties.

We must also Chairperson, applaud structures of the union which successfully defended the collective agreements in SALGBC and ABC.

As we are all aware, many municipalities and water boards applied for exemptions in their numbers.

It was only as a result of the fight by workers that some of those exemptions were withdrawn. Others were also won in the Bargaining Council.

We are aware that there are still some municipalities and water boards that have not implemented the salary and wage agreements. We need to channel our energies towards these employers.

We cannot be speaking of salary and wage negotiations while other municipalities and water boards have not implemented the last agreements. Those workers are already on the backfoot.

This conference needs to resolve on how those workers will be assisted so they too receive their salary and wage increases.

Chairperson, as I mentioned earlier, we are still living with this pandemic, and by the looks of things, this virus will be with us for some time to come.

We should however be hopeful and optimistic because scientists have been able to come up with various vaccines which have been proven to be effective in reducing both infections and deaths. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Our government has also come to the party by rolling out vaccination programmes. We know that this programme will be in phases.

According to the government, municipal workers will be vaccinated in the second phase.

This by the way is voluntary, no worker or member of the public will be forced to be vaccinated against their will.

Comrade Chairperson, we should be encouraging workers in both sectors that we organize in to be vaccinated when vaccination for local government begins.

Delegates, we are meeting here just a few weeks after the minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni presented his anti-worker and pro big business budget.

This budget does very little to assist the sectors which we organize in. In fact, funding for municipalities has been reduced.

We know that the challenges which the country’s municipalities face are financial in nature. The country’s 257 municipalities have long been neglected by National Treasury and COGTA.

It cannot be correct that less than 10% of government expenditure is given to municipalities. Municipalities are in the coalface of service delivery and as such they should be prioritized.

The worst part Chairperson is that this funding model does not take into account that most of the country’s municipalities serve a rural population and as such are unable to raise sufficient revenue on their own.

We must stress that municipalities exist for one reason alone, the delivery of services and not profit making.

As SAMWU, we should be advocating for the delivery of services to all South Africans, irrespective of their ability to pay or not.

I therefore urge this conference to deliberate and resolve on a review of the municipal funding model.

Comrade Chairperson, this austerity budget of Minister Mboweni is causing trouble all other the country.

Just last week, students in Johannesburg were protesting for their right to education. This protest led to the death of Mthokozisi Ntumba, a passerby who was shot point blank by police.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ntumba family during this difficult time, we wish them strength and comfort.

It cannot be correct chairperson that police respond with brutality and violence to genuine demands of students. That behaviour must be condemned.

Delegates, as a working-class organization, we cannot detach ourselves from the struggles of students.

These are our children, we know very well that as parents, we cannot afford to send our kids to universities and Colleges.

Free tertiary education will be the single largest salary increase that poor South African workers will receive.

Not only will South Africa be a learned nation, but this will also enable the students to have a chance of getting better jobs.

We must therefore support this noble cause of students, in fact, we should be seen marching side by side with them.

Chairperson, this Conference is rightfully themed “advancing and defending our gains towards comprehensive social security.”

I must however stress that there will be nothing to advance or defend if whatever that is remaining of municipalities is not salvaged.

Comrades, corruption has become order of the day in municipalities. Day by day, people are looting municipal resources as if there is no tomorrow.

The department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) has admitted that only 7% of the country’s municipalities are functional while 33% have technically collapsed.

Municipalities continue to incur fruitless and wasteful expenditure with impunity. They know that there will be no consequence hence they continue doing as they please.

When our members expose or report instance of corruption, they are victimized, suspended, intimidated and assassinated.

This Conference needs to boldly resolve that whistle blowers must be protected.

As conference, we need to boldly speak against privatization of municipal services through contracting and outsourcing.

Privatization of municipal services is not in the interest of service delivery or that of workers. If anything, it has enabled people to become millionaires overnight while subjecting workers to slave wages and precarious work.

Delegates, we need to also reflect on the intervention of Provincial Governments in municipalities as mandated by Section 139 of the constitution.

We have noticed that in many municipalities, despite the intervention by government, these municipalities never improve, some have even been placed under administration for longer periods, some are repeat offenders.

Most importantly, we must talk about how this intervention is used in municipalities to settle political battles.

It even becomes worse in some municipalities when this intervention becomes a backdoor for looters to continue extending their patronage.

By the time the Administrator leaves the municipality, the institution is at a worst position than it was before the intervention, with little or no money left for service delivery.

Comrades, we cannot speak about defending collective bargaining and not talk about the onslaught that municipalities have embarked on against workers, dismissing workers without following due processes.

We need to also revisit the disciplinary procedure collective agreement. That agreement is not in the interest of workers, it allows for municipalities to do as they please with workers.

Lastly Chairperson, we need to talk about the recent amendments to the Labour Relations Act.

These amendments are nothing but an unprovoked attack on workers designed to limit their right to strike.

This conference should closely reflect on these amendments and resolve on how the right to strike and collective bargaining will be defended.

I wish you all fruitful and robust engagements.

Thank you!