SA must resolve labour unrest: Gordhan

22 May 2013

The government, trade unions, business and civic leaders need to take bold steps to resolve unrest in South Africa’s mining sector to reduce the impact on the economy, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said in Cape Town on Tuesday.

Opening a debate on the National Treasury budget vote in Parliament, Gordhan warned that unless a way was found to restore calm and confidence in South Africa’s mining sector, investment and jobs would be under threat.

“The present uncertainty in the labour relations environment in mining and other sectors requires concerted action by organised labour, business, civic leaders and government,” the minister said.

‘We are all in this together’

“There is no room for complacency here: we are all in this together. If we do not resolve our labour relations challenges, we will all be losers. We will see deteriorating confidence, job losses and business failures.

“But if we find balanced, fair and socially responsible solutions, we all stand to gain: we will see higher investment, higher employment and improvements in living conditions.”

Gordhan’s statement comes as the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is set to facilitate talks between the government, unions and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in a bid to mitigate the mining company’s planned restructuring.

‘Focus on telling a positive story’

However, despite this and other challenges that posed a threat to the economy, Gordhan said South Africans should focus on telling a positive story instead of dwelling on the negatives about the country

“It is time to construct a positive narrative, and to work together to implement it. There are many countries that have greater instability, but their economic narrative is extremely positive. South Africans want to focus only on the negative, and yet what is needed urgently is to focus on the positive.”

Gordhan said that, to turn around the country’s fortunes, the government needed to focus on investing in infrastructure.

He said this was how South Africa weathered the storm during the 2008-9 global financial crisis, with the Treasury managing to retain healthy public spending and a comparable low level of debt.

Investing in infrastructure

“Spending growth reinforced the social security net during a period of declining employment, and provided an economic stimulus through rising allocations towards infrastructure and programmes aimed at business support and increasing employment.

“Going forward, the deficit level will moderate through a combination of revenue growth, in line with the economic recovery, and disciplined real growth in spending.”

He said there was a need to enhance the economy’s capacity to finance long-term infrastructure investments and municipal capacity.

“I am pleased to report that the corporate plan of the Development Bank of Southern Africa outlines a concerted effort to support basic and economic infrastructure development in South Africa and the region.

“Government will, over the next three years, invest R827-billion in the building of new and the upgrading of existing infrastructure. These investments will improve access by South Africans to healthcare facilities, schools, water, sanitation, housing and electrification.”