WORKER’S DAY MESSAGE: WE SALUTE THE SOUTH AFRICAN WORKERS ON MAY DAY
BY KZN PREMIER SIHLE ZIKALALA
Today, the 1st of May 2020, workers all over the world are commemorating International Worker’s Day. Thus we say, "worker's of the world unite you have nothing to loose but to win". The day is used to celebrate the victories of workers, to reflect on their current struggles, and to promote worker solidarity and unity. In our own country, we salute the working class for their central role in the overthrow of apartheid-colonialism and for the revolutionary advances they have made in improving working conditions Thanks to the predecessor of COSATU, the South African Congress of Trade Union (SACTU), the demands of the South African workers including an eight hour working day, maternity leave, the banning of labour brokers, and equal pay for equal work, the demand for housing, education, and adequate healthcare all found expression in the Freedom Charter and ultimately in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Labour Relations Act.
Workers Day this year occurs as the world and our country faces the COVID-19 pandemic which is killing people, causing economic decline, and destroying jobs. We must use Worker’s Day to unite the South African working class behind the imperative of worker safety. Our efforts must be focused on ensuring that workers are protected from the deadly virus and that we reduce the possibility that they become transmitters of the diseases in the workplace and also in their homes and communities. It is incumbent upon employees and government to ensure that workplaces are hygienic, safe, and that workers observe the required social distancing.
During this Worker’s Day, our thoughts are particularly with all South African healthcare workers who are in the frontline of combating this contagious disease. We honour them for their bravery, patriotism, and commitment to save the lives of South Africans while they risk their own. We also pay tribute to other essential workers in the health sector which include ambulance drivers, cleaners, and caterers. As government, we are ensuring that they have adequate supply of Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) and in this regard, we applaud the private sector for the contribution it is making to help us acquire PPE. Working with our dedicated law enforcement agencies, we will continue to strictly enforce the lockdown regulations which are helping to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed from a possible uncontainable outbreak. We encourage all South Africans to use Workers Day to think seriously about the health and wellbeing of our frontline healthcare workers. We must today to recommit ourselves to prevention and avoiding all the risks that are associated with being in large groups, travelling, inebriation, smoking, and lack of physical exercise.
Today we also honour South African workers who are performing essential work in pharmacies, grocery stores, and critical infrastructure maintenance. We pay tribute to the men and women who transporting medicines, food supplies, and workers to coal mines to ensure that Eskom has enough supply to keep the lights on. But we must also keep in mind the many more who are facing retrenchments and those who do not know where their next income or meal will come from. COVID-19 requires that we continue to show human solidarity through action.
Our government has already taken a lead to cushion South African workers and businesses during this crisis. We are heartened by government’s efforts to support the poorest of the poor with food and we thank individuals, NGOs, and companies who are part of this effort. For the first time in our history, the unemployed will be receiving a state grant of R350. It has been a demand of the South African labour movement led by COSATU in particular that the state needs to provide a comprehensive social security system which includes a basic income grant, and we must all take the lessons from this crisis to ensure that our country never finds itself in the future with so many vulnerable citizens who have no adequate means of support.
COVID-19 should be an opportunity for the South African labour movement to unite. Only a united labour front is capable of fighting better and winning decisive victories for the working class. A united labour movement will be in a better position to defend the interests of the vulnerable working class which is already suffering a great deal with many sectors of the economy still closed. We look to COSATU to continue providing leadership and pursuing the strategic goal of “One industry, one union – one country, one federation.” As government, we will continue to engage with labour on improving the working conditions of workers and on ensuring the safety of workers in the workplace.
We call on all the workers of our land to use this challenging time to think hard about how collectively we will achieve the reconstruction and development of KwaZulu-Natal post COVID-19. That work starts now. Ideally, the working class should be at the picket lines demanding an end to a risky and inequitable health care sector through the accelerated implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI). It must continue to lead the struggle for ending centuries of race-based and gender-based inequalities. It is this class which is the central motive force of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) which is best placed to ensure that demands of the Freedom Charter are fulfilled and that we have a South Africa which is truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, equal, and prosperous.
On Workers Day we celebrate the victories of the South African workers and salute them for being at the helm of combating COVID-19.