fears over job losses

Getrude Makhafola

Getrude Makhafola

Though there is relief at the coming dip in the petrol price, the world economic slowdown, resulting in rampant retrenchments, will prove difficult for organised labour this year.

The welcomed 19percent drop in the petrol price tomorrow comes at the back of massive retrenchments, especially in the mining, vehicle and steel producing sectors.

There is hope that the fall of the petrol price will ease food and transport costs and also help cushion inflation.

Labour federations have warned that they will do anything to save jobs.

They are bracing themselves for a battle to halt more impending job cuts this year.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa said it had proposed to the government that a task team should come up with a rescue package.

A task team of government officials and mining representatives was set up last year to try and avert widespread retrenchments.

"The package should be able to cushion the hard-hitting economic crisis, especially for the workers," said Fedusa general secretary Dennis George.

He said the package should be completed before the end of this month and be presented to President Kgalema Motlanthe before his state of the nation address for 2009.

"Once that is addressed the minister of finance can take those suggestions forward in his budget speech," he said.

George also said that his organisation would push for the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates this year by at least two percent.

Cosatu, on the other hand, has hinted that it will seek to influence the ruling ANC party to make changes to existing labour laws to make it difficult for employers to retrench workers.

"In the aftermath of the world recession it is vital to have a strong, militant workers' movement to defend our class from the threat of even higher unemployment and falling living standards," Cosatu said.

This was part of its plan to fight retrenchments in the midst of the economic crisis.

But this has not been well received by the business sector, which is already feeling the economic pinch.

The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Cosatu's call to review labour laws will drive away investment.

With employers and unions seemingly at loggerheads this year, labour unrest cannot be ruled out.

Already starting to make itself heard in the new year is the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union.

The union said yesterday it would embark on a strike if its plan to halt the restructuring in the SAPS fails.

This after the labour court dismissed Popcru's application to stop the restructuring process in the police service.

In terms of the restructuring plan there will only be three levels - that is the police station, provincial and national level.