The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) acknowledges the move by Transnet to institute the process of granting Voluntary Severance Packages (VSPs) to employees. On 01 of July 2021, recognised unions signed a one-year salary agreement for April 2021 to March 2022. The agreement placed a moratorium on retrenchments. There was no moratorium on VSPs since the process was voluntary.
On 5 August 2021, the employer instituted a VSP process through a Special SLF (Strategic Leadership Forum) meeting that was convened virtually. Although the process was based on the discretion of employees, SATAWU discouraged its members through internal correspondence not to take part in the process. On the contrary, over 2500 workers opposed this perspective by exercising the capacity to use their agency which must be respected.
Following the latter developments, a meeting was held between organised labour and management on 27 September 2021. SATAWU argued that all vacancies which will result from the VSP process should in the immediate not be advertised externally rather priority must be given to Transnet’s existing pool of talent with a specific focus on youth, women, people living with disabilities, blacks in general and Africans in particular. Transnet was further requested to accelerate its training interventions to close the skills gap should they arise as a consequence of the VSP process. Once all internal processes have been addressed, remaining vacancies should then be opened to the general public.
Although workers are assumed to be homogeneous owing to productive relations, the division of labour, stratification and lived experiences contradict this assumption. Similarly, the use of the word “voluntary” is used to justify the concept of free will. The reality of the matter is that ordinary workers do not enjoy the luxury of individual freedom. The decision to sell or withdraw one’s labour from productive activities is therefore not out of self-selected circumstances but conditions beyond their control. Irrespective of the conditions that influenced such decisions, the union anticipates that relatively young workers as opposed to employees nearing retirement age rejected the VSPs and illusion of “golden handshakes”.
The union believes that a balance between young and older workers should be maintained for institutional memory, knowledge transfer and succession planning. Notwithstanding that vacancies to be opened to the public must not only be permanent but must offer new entrants a significant degree of social welfare in a form of medical aids and retirement savings etc.
The role of retirement funds must be amplified in the reconstruction and development of a post-COVID-19 dispensation. The introduction of impact/sustainable investing through ESG (Economic, Social and Governance) investments coupled with Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) initiatives is crucial for addressing existing structural challenges. Sustainable long term investments in immovable property through infrastructural development and public-public, as opposed to public-private partnerships, is equally important for redefining the structure of South Africa’s political economy.
In summary, the existence of retirement funds and their sustainable investments in community development is crucial for addressing the scourge of poverty, unemployment and inequalities. It is for this reason that Transnet’s VSP process should focus less on aggravating the current unemployment crisis but should provide decent and permanent employment opportunities to the marginalised youth, women and people living with disabilities. Unlike the private sector, a public good like Transnet has a responsibility to advance sustainable development society and nothing else.
Issued by: South African Transport & Allied Workers Union
For more information, contact
SATAWU General Secretary: Jack Mazibuko: 082 660 4793
SATAWU Deputy General Secretary: Anele Kiet: 071 021 1903