The safety of workers has become a worrying factor for some labour federations. This as workers return to work next week. Both the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and South African Federation of Trade Union (SAFTU) fear that workers will be more exposed to coronavirus infections, as the country is in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic.

South Africa’s unemployment rate is standing at over 30%, and with the coronavirus pandemic forcing some companies to shut down, more people could lose their jobs.

Last year alone, 6-million South Africans lost their jobs as a result of the impact of the pandemic. And as the country entered the second wave of the pandemic, labour federations fear that this could raise the country’s unemployment figures.

COSATU General-Secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali is cautiously optimistic about the New Year.

“2021 should be a year of inclusive economic recovery, the creation of jobs, addressing the health crisis, poverty and unemployment. With the Eskom Compact, the Nedlac Economic Recovery Plan, the mobilisation of resources, the promotion of local procurement and speedy implementation of these plans, we stand a better opportunity to address the interest of the workers and to achieve the aims of the Freedom Charter. So we are hopeful that as we enter this year working together as trade unions, government and business particularly ending the question of investment strike we stand a better chance for economic recovery.”

SAFTU on the other hand says poverty, inequality and unemployment can be mitigated with the introduction of a basic income grant.

General-Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says there is no better time to introduce the basic income grant other than now.

“We want now an expanded relief, a true stimulus package. There can be no better time of introducing the basic income grant other than now. People are dying not just of the coronavirus but people are dying in their homes of poverty. We are rejecting those tokenisms, add onto our pensions and our child support programmes. We want a speedy introduction of the basic income grant as a living wage.”

Vavi also fears more workers will be exposed to infections as they return to work in the New Year. Currently, South Africa has over 1-million infections with over 288 COVID-19 related deaths. He says without proper safety protocols being adhered to by some in the public transport sector, the numbers could increase significantly when workers return to work next week.

“Workers are now returning to work under the conditions where there is no public transport system that is reliable, loaded into taxis where our government has refused to meet the legitimate demands of the taxi associations that it put aside a R4-billion as a form of assistance to ensure that taxi’s carry only 7% of their load in terms of Level 3 of the regulations. The labour movement must be more mobilised to ensure that no worker must go into work without first being tested with the necessary speed that the crisis demands. ”

Meanwhile, labour federations have again vowed to intensify their fight for workers’ rights and better working conditions.

Labour unions say 2020 was a bad year for workers due to retrenchments: