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South Africa Protesters March Against Tolls Roads, Labor Brokering

  • Delia Robertson

Thousands march through Cape Town in a protest by the powerful COSATU labor body, marking the latest sign of tensions within the ANC-led government, March 7, 2012.

Thousands march through Cape Town in a protest by the powerful COSATU labor body, marking the latest sign of tensions within the ANC-led government, March 7, 2012.

Tens of thousands of people in South Africa took part in protests Wednesday against so-called e-tolling on highways and to demand that labor brokers be outlawed.

The protests were called by the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions, or COSATU, and have impacted transport as well as schools and health facilities.

COSATU has been at the forefront of a demand made by many organizations that the Gauteng provincial government abandon a plan to introduce an e-tolling system on highways. Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU general secretary said earlier this week motorists should refuse to pay the tolls.

"We will be encouraging motorists to drive through the tolls without paying," said Vavi.

The new system will make use of structures positioned over the highways armed with cameras and electronic reading devices. Motorists can purchase discounted toll fees in advance, loaded onto electronic tags, and the fees will be automatically deducted as they pass under the structure. If they fail to do so, their vehicle registration number will be noted, and they will receive a bill in the mail.

Similar tolling systems are also expected to be introduced in other provinces. Last month, in response to protests against the tolls, the finance minister announced the government would subsidize the cost of the $2.5-billion operating system by $725 million. But this did not appease COSATU.

The system is defended by Professor Roelof Botha of the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He says a study he did indicated that the tolling system would benefit road users because of less traffic congestion and save both time and money. He also said that contrary to many people's perceptions, the tolls will not add to the financial burden of the poor, because public transport vehicles will be exempt, and 94 percent of the tolls will be paid by the wealthiest users.

COSATU is also demanding that the government outlaw labor brokers -- people who employ workers, hire them out to companies, then take a cut of the employees' wages. The unions say the brokers undermine the government’s policy of decent work because many workers have no security of tenure and do not receive heath care and pension benefits. They are also not members of trade unions.

A female protester told the eNews Channel that she has worked for a labor broker for 10 years, and that her salary is so low she finds it difficult to feed her children.

"I am here because I am working for labor brokers for 10 years, and I have children going to school and this money is not [enough] because I can’t buy for, because I [am paid] only R300 [$40] a week in post office, so I can’t [manage]," she said.

Labor brokers became common in the 1990s when stringent new labor laws greatly increased the red-tape involved in hiring and firing workers. The new laws particularly affected small- and medium-sized businesses, which found the complex red tape required to manage personnel increasingly time-consuming and costly.

The government proposes to regulate labor brokers, to ensure that people employed by brokers have fair and equitable conditions of employment.

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