COSATU SHIFTS THE BLAME TO BUSINESS

Business Day, 29 May 2008

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Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has criticised the government and business, saying employers had to accept part of the responsibility for xenophobic violence that has raged across the country. Cosatu also said yesterday while it appreciated President Thabo Mbeki’s recent address to the nation on the xenophobia that has left 50 people dead, it had come a little too late. Following a three-day central executive committee meeting, Cosatu laid into business, saying it had fomented tension by deliberately employing foreigners, especially illegal ones, so that employers could pay them less and feel free “to treat them as they wish”. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said: “The illegal immigrants have no recourse whatsoever as they believe reporting any abuse to the South African Police Service and CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) will lead to them being deported. “In doing this, these unscrupulous employers have effectively restructured the labour market outside the legal framework by having a pool of workers who are not union members, whom they pay peanuts outside the collective bargaining council agreements and sectoral determinations,”. The committee called on employers to make generous contributions to those displaced by the xenophobia. The National Union of Mineworkers, a Cosatu affiliate, has so far managed to raise R500000 in donations from the mining industry. The meeting asked all of its affiliates to lobby their industries. While Cosatu did not endorse a call by the South African Communist Party for Mbeki to step down before his presidential term ends next year, it did say South Africans had lost confidence in his ability to govern. Cosatu said Mbeki’s denial of a crisis in Zimbabwe was part of the reason the government took its time to respond to violence. “The government must also accept blame for the crises we find ourselves in,” it said. “Had the government decisively intervened some 10 years ago when it became clear that the Zimbabwe situation was deteriorating, the Zimbabweans would not find it necessary to leave their country in droves.” Cosatu accused the government and Southern African Development Community (SADC) of acting in an “unprincipled fashion” when it was clear Zimbabwe’s 2000 and 2002 polls did not satisfy SADC protocols. Home affairs was also criticised . Cosatu said officials from the “utterly inefficient and corrupt” department took bribes “en-masse” to issue identity documents to foreigners. It also accused the police of taking bribes from foreigners desperate for such documents. Cosatu accepted some of its members were culprits.