SA's labour laws work, says Motlanthe at GIBS Forum

Posted on November 23, 2011

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has defended the country's labour laws, saying they were not the main stumbling block to job creation. Motlanthe, who is being touted as a possible successor to President Jacob Zuma in 2014, was addressing academics and business executives at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) on Friday night. While his remarks pleased Cosatu, which is in alliance with the ruling ANC, the labour federation expressed disappointment at his continued support for US retail giant Walmart's entry into SA. Asked at the GIBS function if the government planned to make labour law more businessfriendly, Motlanthe said it was a myth that labour laws were stifling job creation. "I don't think our labour laws are an obstacle to the creation of jobs. I think they contain enough flexibility," Motlanthe said. Business executives and large companies criticise the laws as too rigid, saying they make it hard to hire and fire employees. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and National Planning Commission Minister Trevor Manuel expressed similar views earlier this year. But Motlanthe said the current labour policies had been agreed at Nedlac, the body at which government, business and labour discuss issues of mutual interest. He pointed out that the current labour framework had the support of the International Labour Organisation. "I know that this year an accord was signed again at Nedlac which now allows for apprentices to be absorbed without those apprentices being treated as fulltime employees, so there is flexibility in our labour regime," said the deputy president. Turning to Walmart, Motlanthe told the gathering that the arrival of the global retail giant was "a vote of confidence" in SA's trade policies and laws. He dismissed suggestions that Walmart would kill small retailers, an argument that has been repeatedly cited by Cosatu in its attempts to block the Walmart takeover of Massmart. "My understanding is that it [Walmart] has to procure supplies from small suppliers. I mean Pick n Pay has not killed small producers of vegetables and other perishables. Instead it guarantees them a market," said Motlanthe. "The way we look at it is that it makes a very positive vote of confidence in South Africa as an investment outlet." Motlanthe's view contradicts that of the ministers of economic development, trade and industry, and agriculture, who have asked the Competition Appeal Court to Impose more stringent conditions on the Walmart-Massmart transaction. While he welcomed Motlanthe's backing for the labour laws, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi slammed the deputy president for his Walmart remarks. "Where was he when cabinet instructed three ministers to oppose an unconditional entry into South Africa by Walmart?" Vavi asked. "I think the cabinet ministers have gone to the appeals tribunal with very, very sound arguments."

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