A call is being made by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to reduce the number of hours South Africans work a week by five hours nationwide, without workers’ wages being lowered.
The union federation’s new campaign aims to have a 40-hour working week formally introduced to replace the current 45-hour working week, in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA).
Currently, this act states that the ordinary maximum hours of work is 45 hours per week, which amounts to nine hours a day if an employee works five days a week, and eight hours a day if the employee works more than five days a week.
Cosatu argues that a reduction in working hours could help to reduce the unemployment rate in the country.
“It is generally accepted that the reason for reducing working hours to 40 is to create employment. If work that is done by five people can be done by 10 people who are not working long hours of 45 hours, this could create more jobs” says Cosatu.
The federation feels the unemployment rate is due in part to the lack of flexibility that South Africa’s labour force is allowed. It also feels that the long hours compromise the health of workers and leave them with little time to spend with their families.
“Currently, South Africa has an unemployment rate of 27.1%, but when using the expanded definition, our unemployment rate is sitting at 37%, which means that close to 10-million people are without jobs. This means that we need more regulation in the labour market because what is causing joblessness is not only technology but also labour flexibility.”
The federation is seeking to have these changes implemented without any change in employees’ incomes.
Cosatu listed its demands in a recent statement.
COSATU demands the following:
– The progressive reduction of the working week from the current 45-hour week to a 40-hour week must be expedited. However, this must be done without workers losing their wages. This would enhance the much-needed redistribution of income from employers to workers and equal sharing in the income produced in the country. It is for this reason that working hours must be regulated.
– Trade unions must unite and use their collective power to pressure employers into adopting the 40-hour working week.
– We call for the revision of collective agreements to ensure that they adhere to the 40-hour week.
– Nedlac must prioritise the negotiation of the BCEA to ensure there is a clear timeframe on moving towards the 40-hour working week. Through the National Minimum Wage Commission, Nedlac must call upon the Minister of Labour to review all sectoral determinations with a view of ensuring that all workers enjoy their right to a 40-hour week.
– The working hours of all workers, including casuals, must be increased to 40 hours per week.
– A section 77 protest action will be considered as a tool to put more pressure on the government and employers to move towards a 40-hour week with speed and without a wage cut.