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Volkswagenisation of the labour laws –

The proposed deal on the draft labour law amendments

Recently the Millenium Labour Council [MLC] proposed a deal to the workers and the bosses on the draft labour law amendments submitted by the ANC government. That this proposal was ‘negotiated’ in the MLC shows that decaying capitalism cannot even afford to have its deals taken through the superficially more ‘representative’ NEDLAC [National Economic Development and Labour Council]. The MLC represents the open partnership principally of the Cosatu leadership with monopoly capitalism-imperialism.

The Cosatu leadership have capitulated to the essence of the demands of big capital, namely:

  1. Making dismissals and retrenchments easier
  2. Reducing the packages for retrenchments and dismissals, thereby facilitating an even greater flood of possible retrenchments
  3. Removing the right to a hearing before dismissal for strikes against retrenchments
  4. Reducing the role of the CCMA [Commisssion for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] and opening the way for the Labour Courts to play a greater role.
  5. Reducing the rate for Sunday work for many workplaces, thus encouraging the lengthening of the working week and consequently leading to more retrenchments.

The proposed deal reflects the general approach of imperialism to transfer its crisis of falling profits onto the shoulders of the working class and lower middle classes in the neo-colonial countries [or what bourgeois economists sarcastically refer to as the ‘developing countries’].

The proposed deal wants the process of conciliation and arbitration to be combined in certain cases. This will lead to more workers losing cases as preparation for arbitration needs time. Secondly, the bosses have long been complaining that because cases take a long time to be settled, they generally have to pay out bigger packages for compensation awards. As the overwhelming trend of settlements of the CCMA is towards packages rather than reinstatement, this means that bosses will be more prone to retrench or dismiss as the package they will have to pay will be smaller. For any case going against the bosses, they will now more easily take cases on review, as the Volkswagen bosses did for the case of the mass dismissal of 1386 strikers in February 2000. This will have the effect of artificially creating a new industry, namely that cold-blooded species called dismissal lawyers. As workers generally do not have much access to funds, it means that the process of defence against dismissal is tipped in favour of the bosses. The MLC have rightfully coined the term, conarb.[We say ‘con-arb’].

The process of retrenchment is speeded up by what the MLC gurus cynically call the right to strike. Instead of being able to challenge any aspect of the retrenchment in court, this is narrowed to only the refusal to provide relevant information. The bosses have been complaining that challenges to retrenchments take so long that by the time they are settled, they have to pay huge [to them, that is] packages. The Cosatu leadership, in their infinite wisdom, have come to the rescue of the captains of capitalism- imperialism: They have agreed that for retrenchments of 50 or 10% of the workforce, whichever is less, workers have the right to strike. The only catch is that the very instant workers go on strike, the bosses have the right to instantly dismiss the strikers without a hearing! In the case of any disputes over the fairness of the termination, the right to reinstatement is already excluded and compensation will be minimal or non-existent! In 1999 the VWSA bosses unveiled a plan to reduce their workforce from 6000 to 3000 by the year, 2002. The January 2000 strike at their Uitenhage plant provided a golden opportunity to engage in a mass dismissal without even paying packages. Where the union leadership have a dispute with workers at a plant, they could, theoretically, collude with management to engage in a retrenchment exercise , lead the workers out on strike and then ensure that those ‘troublesome’ workers who are demanding too many rights, are dismissed! In fighting the application of GEAR at the workplace, the VWSA workers faced a united front of their union officials and the bosses. Now, the support by government for the mass dismissal of the VWSA workers in 2000 will be codified in the new labour amendments.

The working class should reject the proposed deal of the MLC. All worker leaders should be withdrawn from the MLC and other alliances with the bosses and govt. The Cosatu leaders involved in this betrayal should be booted out of office. Workers International Vanguard League calls for a Workers Summit of all unions and international mobilisation of the working class to prepare to fight a more serious attack on workers gains than the 1988 amendments from the apartheid regime. Do not allow big capital to dictate the smashing of the few workers rights in SA. If the Labour Appeal Court on the VWSA mass dismissal, sitting on 19th April 2001, confirms the same trend of the proposed amendments, then this will be the first setback of a long series of defeats for the labour movement. We call on all workers to defend the VWSA dismissed workers. Whether the Labour Appeal Court will bow to the dictates of the VW bosses, we will soon discover… the signs are ominous!

Workers International Vanguard League

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