The new social pact is reminiscent of the first tripartite Laboria Minute of 14 September 1990.   In 1988 the government of the day unilaterally changed the labour laws advocated  by the Wiehahn Commission and implemented in 1979.   In 1990 big business and the trade unions ganged up against the government and forced a reversal of the laws; hence the Laboria Minute.   Now it seems that the workers have ganged up and forced the government to do something in a pact with big business and Cosatu.

Carol Paton’s’ analysis of the situation in Pact will not repair the state’s contract with the people was first published in Business Day on 22 October.   Courtesy of Business Day here are some random extracts.

“WHAT is the use of the latest social pact engineered by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel?   With the economy under siege by strikers and worries growing internationally that the government does not have the means and ability to address the country’s socio-economic problems, getting business, labour and government together was arguably a necessary process.   But what can the extensive set of agreements in the pact be expected to achieve?   Can it address the immediate crisis in the mining industry?   Can it solve the long-term problems that have the rating agencies so rattled?

On helping to solve the immediate crisis, there are some glaring shortcomings.   First, workers and not the union federations (or civic organisations) are striking.   The hallmark of the strikes has been an explicit rejection of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).   As a channel for dialogue with strikers, the NUM channel is broken.   The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which has tried to step in, has had limited success where its affiliate has failed.

In the present situation, where it is the wider population in revolt against the social partners themselves, a pact with institutions at leadership level will not solve the crisis.

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini had the right idea when he said on the eve of the talks: “A call must be made to all South Africans to say: ‘Yes we have problems, but let us not destroy the jobs we have.’” Leaders needed to stand up and show themselves, he said, as workers were going to realise too late that they had been lied to by the likes of Julius Malema.   But in the statement following the meeting, President Jacob Zuma said only the following: “Processes to address the grievances of workers have now been put in place and we wish these processes to be concluded speedily.   We call on workers who are engaged in unprotected strikes to return to work as soon as possible and for production in the mining industry to be normalised.”

While the pact promises a beefed-up approach to intelligence and security, details of “new measures” are hard to come by (despite persistent inquiries), making it impossible to say if this part of the plan can be expected to make much difference.

In dealing with the long-term developmental problems, the pact draws together several government initiatives, most of which are in the New Growth Path document, and promises to accelerate them.   So, for instance, a selection of infrastructure projects, spread out over the provinces, has been earmarked for acceleration.   It also makes mention again of the targets for expansion of the government’s two public works programmes as well as a series of measures aimed at increasing youth employment.

Patel also took the opportunity to extract some long-sought commitments out of the social partners once he had them around the table.   For instance, he got business to agree to a 12-month salary freeze and labour to agree to “an industrial relations system for infrastructure projects that will avoid industrial disputes, protect workers and help speed up the delivery of projects”.   But, in both cases, although the agreement was secured, compliance is far from certain.

Besides its inability to extract any real concessions from labour, the government now has a more pressing problem to deal with.   It was the broader social contract between the government and the people that gave way at Marikana and in the wildcat strikes that followed.   That is something that cannot be fixed through a leadership pact and which requires a more direct strategy of political engagement.”