Precarious workers continue to search for organisation
Interview with Sydney Moshoaliba | Amandla | June/July 2021
Interview with Sydney Moshoaliba, Education Officer of Casual Workers Advice Office
Amandla!: Please start by telling us a little bit about CWAO, just broadly speaking, what work you do.
Sydney Moshoaliba: Casual Workers Advice Office was mainly formed to assist and organise precarious workers. By precarious workers we are talking about labour broker workers, casual workers and part-time workers. To some extent we do assist domestic workers.
A!: So why do workers come to you when there are trade unions for all the industries around Ekurhuleni where you are based? Why aren’t they going to trade unions to get this kind of support?
SM: Well, you see when we started this project, it was during the time when trade unions have totally declared that labour broker workers, casual workers and part-time workers are an administrative burden. So to organise them was becoming an unmanageable exercise in union organisation. And that’s when we intervened in the formation of the CWAO.
A!: Are you saying that trade unions actually chased those workers away?
SM: Trade unions totally rejected those workers on the basis that they are an extra administrative burden. At that time, around 2010 and 2011, the labour broking industry was growing massively and growing even into the state-owned enterprises, where lots of services that were provided were being outsourced. So quite clearly there was a need at that time, a greater need to organise these workers. We created space, we created a platform for them to be able to organise and challenge employers for their issues. We created a platform for workers to explore self-organising initiatives.
Unions only organise permanent workers. I can make you an example. In 2015 we embarked on a campaign called section 198 where we demanded that labour broker workers become permanent workers of the client. And in many workplaces, we were able to achieve that goal where labour broker workers were made permanent. But even though they were deemed permanent, they were still treated as second class citizens in those different workplaces.
As a result, these workers felt that because now they are deemed permanent, they can now join those unions in those different workplaces. And they then joined those unions, different unions in different workplaces, different sectors. They joined.
But still even after they joined those unions, the issues they were raising, which are mainly the issues of equalisation in terms of conditions and wages, have still not been resolved. Three years down the line, those workers have come back to CWAO to say, “look we tried joining unions with a view that the unions would be able to assist us, and we are still where we were three years ago when we were deemed permanent”.
This is an experience that we encounter from time to time as the CWAO. As a result, these workers in turn are saying we must in collaboration form our own type of union that will be able to aggressively address these issues that we are facing in the workplaces. The birth of Simunye Workers Forum was the result.
The Simunye Workers Forum was formed in June 2016. In fact these workers came to CWAO already organised because they came from different workplaces. And when they came to CWAO they put themselves into a workers’ forum which remains the Simunye Workers Forum. There has been a forum since 2011, but the Simunye Workers Forum as such was formed in 2016.
A!: Are you saying that you are now forming a union, or that you have formed a union?
SM: We are in the process of registering Simunye Workers Forum as a trade union. But Simunye Workers Forum, as a forum itself, is a trade union. Since its formation, the issue of registration has never been priority for the members of Simunye until such time that they realised that the employers are using this as an advantage to attack them whenever they try to address and challenge employers. So this issue of registration is not necessarily that we are now captured by the formation of the union, it’s simply to say that these workers think it would be important to register so that they can be able to advance their struggles in the workplaces.
These workers are registering Simunye as a trade union because the employers are refusing to engage with them when they raise conditions or issues or improvement of wages and conditions. They say “this Simunye is not recognised” so they cannot engage with these workers.
But we are able to represent these workers at the CCMA, bargaining council, labour court, that is not an issue.
A!: Speaking of the CCMA, I know you are involved in a campaign to restore the services that have been cut by the budget cuts. Could you tell us what’s been happening with this campaign.
SM: We do have a campaign. The Open CCMA Campaign is a collaboration of civil society organisation with an interest to advocate worker rights and workplace democratisation. You see the other thing that is happening here at CWAO, we also assist individual workers that maybe want to refer unfair dismissal cases, unpaid severances, unfair labour practice and so on, but we know that there are also numbers of workers who are also going directly to CCMA offices and reserving such cases.
But what we’ve realised is that the CCMA has declared that they will no longer be dealing with what we call walk-in referrals. Now those workers who normally go to the CCMA for those particular cases have been left in the cold. No-one is attending to them. When they get to the CCMA they are told to go to the internet café, get a referral, go find people to fill in the referral and so on. And these people are charging these workers.
Now it creates a problem because most of these workers who go there to refer cases are dismissed. They do not have money to buy referrals, to scan, to e-mail and so on and so on. So it means that the CCMA, by these budget cuts, is attacking the poor and the working class. That’s one of the main problems.
The second problem we are encountering is the time it takes for the CCMA to issue a set down is now taking longer because there is a limited number of commissioners who are dealing with the cases.
A!: From what I hear you saying it means that effectively the CCMA has stopped doing the job that it was set up to do if it is not accepting workers to walk in. And yet the CCMA has trade unions on its board. What are they doing to sort out this situation?
SM: We are well aware in the board of CCMA you have Cosatu representation, Fedusa representation and what they were saying in those board meetings was that workers must go online to refer cases.
So basically, that is a selling out, it’s a sell-out position. You have an organisation that is supposed to be representing the interests of the working class. They know the working class are poor workers who have an issue of the data, the resources. And they say they must go online.
A!: And the campaign to open up the CCMA again, is that in motion?
SM: The campaign is in motion and the campaign will not stop until such time that the CCMA agrees to open its doors and allow walk-in referrals. So we basically are putting pressure in areas where we have formations and structures that exist. We know that in Western Cape comrades are busy from time to time. They go and picket outside the CCMA. And we also here in Joburg from time to time are going to the CCMA offices and picket and protest there. So the campaign is on and it’s ongoing and it’s gaining momentum as we move along.