Mailbox: NUMSA strike is not just about wages

F2014-03-21T082801Z_1_AJOEA2K0NIV00_RTROPTP_3_OZABS-SAFRICA-STRIKE-20140321rom Dewald Janse v Rensburg, HR Manager, Novatek Drills (Pty):

The report in on the pending NUMSA strike is clearly written by someone who does not understand labour organisation and the relevant structures very well. The MEIBC is not an employer group. It is a bargaining council founded in terms of the Labour Relations Act consisting of trade unions and employer’s organizations.

The dispute in the industry is not only about wages. The main points include the unions’ demand for abolishment of labour brokers and  further the employers’ demand that Clause 37 of the existing Main Agreement be expanded whilst the trade unions are demanding its scrapping.

The Main Agreement regulates conditions of employment in the industry. Clause 37 deals with matters that the parties may only negotiate at Bargaining Council level and those that by exclusion they can negotiate outside of the council’s jurisdiction, at shop floor level. If SEIFSA was also interviewed these matters would have been made clear.

There is a definite political undertone to the anticipated strike.

See the statement as per NUMSA’s web site (republished below).

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) is currently holding its ordinary and scheduled National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to consider a wide-range of issues related to political, organisational, international and financial issues.

The decisions of this NEC will be publicly communicated once the NEC has concluded its business.

As the National Office Bearers (NOBs’), we have been duly mandated by this NEC to publicly communicate our final position or stance related to the Engineering/Metals collective bargaining outcomes. We are doing so in the interests of the public, but most importantly, in the interests of our members. We can’t afford to keep newsrooms and the entire country in doubt regarding our final decision relating to the demand of our members in the Engineering/Metals sector.

  1. Salute to the mineworkers for securing a decisive settlement victory!!

Before doing so, our NEC wishes to send a congratulatory message to the courageous mineworkers for securing a decisive and historic settlement in the platinum belt. This settlement is not only a victory for mineworkers, but for workers in South Africa as a whole. The settlement secured after bitter battles between workers and the mining ruling oligarchy has called on workers to not simply unite beyond the logos or t-shirt colours of their unions. It has renewed workers battle assertion of “an injury to one; is an injury to all”.

Furthermore, it has called on the progressive trade union movement to go back to basics, and not to be used by politicians to garner electoral support and parliamentary seats, while worker grievances and challenges remain unresolved. Doing so will continue to lead to the implosion of those trade unions that possess a rich heritage in our struggle.

The victory of platinum workers has confirmed the correctness of our fight for a Living Wage and the introduction of a legislated National Minimum Wage, as dictated by the Freedom Charter.

Numsa also salutes the thousands of working class communities and progressive organisations of the people that provided concrete solidarity with the heroic mineworkers. This solidarity was yet another confirmation of wide-spread popular support of the struggle for a Living Wage. It is this kind of worker-community alliances that Numsa seeks to foster as we build the United Front.

As Numsa, we will not bury our heads in the sand or be blind to the reality that the strike was characterised by high levels of intimidation and killings. The intimidation and killings threatened the nobility and genuineness of the struggle of the mineworkers. This needs to be addressed and resolved without apportioning blame amongst all involved, but making sure such acts do not recur.

  1. A strike is inevitable!!

Already some unelected shopstewards and chief representatives of the exploiting class are conjuring up lots of political conspiracies with regards to the looming strike in the Engineering/Metals sector. Some have gone to the extent of making unsubstantiated claims that we are working hand-in-glove with AMCU in order to sabotage the economy of our country; these include making shocking claims that we are working with imperialists forces to unleash a counter-revolutionary insurrection inside the country.  Such insinuations are so far-fetched from the truth; they can only be spread by those whose brains are crowded or ingrained with conspiracy theories. We call on those making these accusations to expose the role of mining capital instead!

We are not in denial about the fact that a political agenda exists inside some powerful and influential corridors in the land, including from the most powerful and feared House in Central Johannesburg, intended to undermine genuine struggles of workers for a Living Wage and improved conditions of employment.

A number of seditious statements were uttered by certain politicians to destroy the credibility of the mining strike, as opposed to providing leadership in resolving the strike, as opposed to tackling the role of mining bosses but instead compromising the demands of workers.

The decision to go on strike was not an easy one, but we can unambiguously state that this strike enjoys the overwhelming support of our members in this strategic layer of our country’s economy, wherein more than 400 000 workers are selling their labour power and are being cheaply exploited. This strategic lever of our economy is at the centre of key value chains in the economy, and a significant contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Most of our members organised in this sector live in shacks and informal settlements.

These workers have no choice but to rely on the State, simply because their wages are insufficient to afford decent housing and other important basic necessities. These workers spend on average over 20% of their disposable income on transport costs.  This is directly as a result of the persisting legacy of apartheid social engineering and its settlement patterns which has ensured that Africans in particular and Blacks in general live in outer areas, located far from the centers where economic activities are concentrated.  Workers’ demands are therefore just and reasonable.

  1. Our demands are reasonable!!

A number of General Meetings have been running concurrently with the negotiations and mediation processes, as part of updating and renewing our mandates from members. This was done to avoid confusion and more critically to ensure that our members are part of the process of deciding what is happening. This is in line with Numsa’s democratic, worker controlled internal processes. Through this process it has become unambiguously clear that our members are angered by the offer presented by the bosses. They are agitated and are ready to strike to ensure that their demands are met. These demands include:

  • A 15% wage increase (We have now made a significant compromise to decrease our wage demand to 12%)
  • A 1 year bargaining agreement
  • The scrapping of Labour Brokers
  • Wage negotiations must benefit all workers irrespective of whether these workers are salaried or wage earners
  • The extension of the scope of the Main Agreement; and
  • The removal of the short time and layoff clauses from the Main Agreement.

This strike follows a series of negotiations with the bosses, who remain stubborn and intransigent.  The first phases of the negotiations took place on the week of March 26-27, 2014; the second phase on the week of April 16, 2014; third phase on the week of May 8-9, 2014; fourth phase on the week of May 21-23, 2014; fifth phase on week of May 28-29. On May 30, 2014 we declared a dispute with the employer bodies under the auspices of the Metal and Engineering Bargaining Council (MEIBC).

In these negotiations we were guided by our Bargaining Strategy underpinned by the following principles;

  • Closing the colonial apartheid wage gap, fighting for equity in the workplace and demanding a Living Wage;
  • No to downward variation to the worker’s conditions of employment;
  • The democratisation of the workplace;
  • Reduce excessive pay for the Bosses;
  • Developing the skills of the workforce that was deprived of that development during colonial-apartheid past; AND
  • Use collective bargaining to organise the unorganised and thereby growing Numsa into a formidable fighting force.

The NEC has agreed to the decision from our members to embark on an indefinite strike action, beginning on July 01, 2014. This will see more than 220 000 workers belonging to our union embarking on strike action across the country. The decision to embark on the strike action was solicited through a democratic and transparent process, owing to our founding traditions of being a worker-controlled and democratic trade union. This was not an easy decision, but a painful one, not taken with a pinch of salt, since the principle ofNo Work No Pay, will be held by the greedy bosses. It has never been in our agenda to call a strike; this strike has been imposed on us. Ours is to use the strike, as part of a tactic to exert organisational pressure to the bosses, to return to the table and present an offer acceptable to our members.

  1. We are not working on Tuesday!!

A number of marches and plant based protests will be taking place across the country next week Tuesday July 01, 2014. A detailed scheduled, including deployments will be made available on Sunday June 29’ 2014, during the NEC Press Conference. Numsa calls on all workers, the unemployed in the working class communities and other progressive organisations to stand in solidarity with Engineering/Metals workers in the common struggle for a Living Wage and decent life.

  1. Wage deadlock in Eskom:

As usual the Eskom management is very deliberate in ensuring that the fat cat management of the public utility receives big salaries, bonuses, grand office space and perks BUT consider the workers who are the real generators of electricity to be satisfied with peanuts as if they are monkeys.

Come hell or high water, the Numsa National Executive Committee having considered that Numsa members in Eskom are receiving the short end of the stick, resolved that Numsa members in Eskom must join a protest march on 2 July 2014 in support of the following Numsa demands;

  • Duration of the agreement: 1 year
  • Salary Wage: 12% across the board
  • Housing Allowance: R 1000.00
  • Productivity incentive: 16%
  • Standby Allowance: R 100.00

This time around Numsa members in Eskom shall not be deterred by the so-called Essential Service provisions behind which Eskom is hiding. This is no empty threat. We are not intimidated by threats of the illegality of our actions in Eskom or the threat of mass dismissals.

In Conclusion:

We shall call on Numsa’s United Front allies to join metalworkers in our Living Wage Campaign and the struggle for decent jobs, outlawing of labour brokers and an end to casualisation.

Issued by Numsa’s National Executive Committee (NEC)


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