NUMSA Press Statement on the strike in the metals and engineering sector

14 July 2014, Posted in NUMSA Engineering Bargaining Road map

Numsa’s responsible approach to the engineering strike:

Members of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) who are employed in the metal, iron, steel and engineering industry began a national strike on 1 July 2014 to press for improvements on wages, benefits and conditions of employment.

Prior to the strike and since then, Numsa national leadership and bargaining teammembers have been engaged in negotiations with the bosses with the objective of securing a settlement as swiftly as possible.

In Numsa we always approach strikes very seriously precisely because we know that the hardships of our members are doubly multiplied during strikes as they suffer the double effects of inferior colonial wages and then, simultaneously during strikes, they lose even these inferior earnings for the duration of the strike.

Our approach to strikes is therefore guided by a three pronged strategy: a scientific analysis of the cost of reproduction of a worker in the sectors under negotiations, the actual economic status of the firms in the sectors under negotiations and during the entire process of collective bargaining, members of Numsa directly participate both in the initial information gathering and analyses and the mandating processes with regards to the full negotiations.

It is this blend of science and internal democratic control and mobilization of the members of Numsa which make our union unique: Numsa members always come out in full force when negotiations degenerate into strikes precisely because they are fully aware of, and in control of the negotiations, themselves.

We must place on record that the union has approached negotiations with integrity, good faith, honesty and transparence, and without any resort to cheap bargainingtactics or strategy. While we are fully aware of the state of the industry in the metals and engineering sectors we are also very acutely aware of the miserable conditions of life of the majority of the Black and African working class who are the backbone of this industry who survive on extremely low, colonial and very inferior racist inspired wages.

Thus at all material times, before and now during the strike, we as a union have been motivated by the desire to swiftly settle in order to minimize the massive negative impact on our members as they suffer twice during strikes: they endure the pain of not receiving even the pathetic racist colonial wages during strikes!

Numsa has endured, like all the Black and African working class post 1994 in South Africa, sustained vicious attacks by the combined mighty of the capitalist bosses of all colours, its liberal media and rightwing political representatives led by the DA and the Black and African parasitic capitalist elites in the ANC and its Alliance, who claim that we the Black and African working class in employment are destroying the South African economy because of our “excessive wage demands”, and that through our unions, we are preventing the bosses from forcing us to share with the millions unemployed Black and African workers the miserable colonial and racist portion of national income which we get.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

South Africa is suffering from acute unemployment, mass poverty and extreme inequalities precisely because the racist colonial economic base of South Africa which depends on and feats upon extremely cheap Black and African labour has not been transformed in the past 20 years of our so called democracy.

To blame the victims of this evil racist colonial system for the racist greed of a tiny white minority racist capitalist class and its even more tiny extremely myopic and selfish Black and African parasitic class is to cruelly lay the blame of the disaster South African is turning into at the feet of the victims of our evil racist capitalist system – the Black and African working class, employed and unemployed. Numsa rejects this narrative with the contempt it deserves.

Despite our productive attitude in the negations, employers have adopted a very conservative and backward stance: they are determined to maintain the apartheid colonial wage structure as their accumulation strategy which is of course based on thesuper exploitation of Black and African labour even in post 1994 South Africa. We, on the other hand, are determined to save the South African economy from this reckless and absolutely dangerous path most of our employers continue to be steeped in.

Contrary to the lies and slander from the capitalist camp, it is not the working class who are destroying the so called “South African economy” (which apparently must only feature Black and African workers as very cheaply and racially exploited human beings!), rather, it is the employers, their greedy colonial and racist wage strategy – they have not graduated yet into viewing Black and African workers as worthy of any meaningful human life such as they themselves live, hence they are quite happy to fight to retain labour brokering and inferior racist and colonial wages for the Black and African working class. This of course translates into supper profits for them! This is the real threat not only to the South African economy but to our entire society and any possibility of evolving into a truly free, democratic, prosperous and peaceful country.

Numsa’s militancy is a direct product of our rejection of the conditions of the inhumanity of our work and supper exploitative wages and conditions we are subjected to, at the hands of South African capitalists.

What are we dealing with in this industry strike?

What this strike has further exposed is the fact that within the employer groupings there is a serious diehard layer of right wing conservatives who see workers not as humanbeings who deserve to be treated with respect.

These extreme reactionary elements within the engineering employer bodies refuse to see Black and African workers as deserving of full human rights. This group is led by avery backward hot, Mr. Papenfus, who has now shown himself to be a serious tradeunion basher who 20 years into our democracy still wants to continue championing avery backward and primitive attitude that smells like the old apartheid baaskap mentality: that of seeing Black and African workers as slaves who must simply be exploited using the race to the bottom approach and subjecting them to sweat shop conditions. This in his view must be the workers way of life. The likes of Papenfus argue in public utterances that;

1. Smaller employers across the board have no ability to pay – No proof or evidence for this assertion is produced;

2. Labour unions are given too much power in the collective bargaining dispensation – Again Papenfus does not disclose the fact that he and others are in alliance with the Free Market Foundation to undo collective bargaining in South Africa so as to create a two tier labour market.

3. The collective bargaining system is too rigid for smaller employers particularly those employers who are located in the rural/platteland areas – Papenfus dishonestly hides the fact that the bargaining council has a facility within which companies that do not have the ability to pay can apply for an exemption if they suffer financial hardship BUT the necessary financial proof must be provided andtheir workers must be consulted.

4. Wages demanded by Numsa members are just too high, so says Neasa’sPapenfus and Seifsa – South Africans must ask themselves the question and answer whether R5600.00 per month as demanded by the lowest paid in the industry is unreasonable when black workers live very far from work, suffer public transport every single day to get to work, cannot afford houses and live in shacks in inferior informal settlements, suffer higher prices of food, water, electricity and other social needs precisely because they do not get the bonuses the bosses so selfishly and generously lavish themselves with!

Popular mandates from striking Numsa members:

We take pride in respecting the voice of Numsa striking workers in pressing hard for improvements in wages and other conditions of employment. All nine (9) Numsa Regions and our 52 Numsa Locals have excelled in properly keeping our membership updated on the negotiations with employers during the strike action.

In the Special Numsa National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held on Thursday 10 July 2014, Numsa Regions reported that striking Numsa members are rejecting the employer’s latest offer because employers want a 3 year stability/peace clause with no strike action during this period while they have refused to compensate workers for their productivity and profit generation over the same next 3 years.

Putting the record straight about the continuation of the strike
 
1. Since the revised offer made by employers after the strike action commenced,we rejected it because it was an insult. Employers went public to suggest that they have given us double digits thereby misleading the public. The truth is that employers want to secure a three year agreement and they are only offering 10%in the first year.

When they finally made an improvement it was an offer of an extra 0,5% meaning the offer of employers currently is 10% for the first year, 9,5% for the second year and 9 for the third year. This recent offer has been taken to members on 10 July 2014 and we are announcing that this offer has been rejected by our members.

2. Our members are very clear that if employers want a three year agreement, theymust meet workers demand of double digit increases which should be on an ascending scale failing which our members shall settle for nothing less than 10% for the first year, 10 % for the second year and 10% for the third year.

3. We want to inform our membership and the broader public that as a union we are ready to end the current strike with a one year agreement and a 10% wage increase.

4. Numsa further want to inform the public that a continuation of this strike is now adrive by employers with provocative demands. What are those demands?

4.1 The three (3) year agreement – Employers are demanding a three year agreement in which they will pay workers less than double digits for a period of two years but to make things worse they want to change what has been a custom and practice in the industry governed by section 37 where both employers and the union would commit that on all the issue agreed upon in the agreement parties will not go back at plant level to double dip by renegotiating those issue.

Employers are now making the unreasonable demand that over and above the issues that would have been settled upon in this round of negotiations,workers at plant level must commit and contract out of law that they will notbargain or raise any issue that have add on costs. In this regard we warn that employers are only fueling the continuation of the current strike. Employers must know that their unilateral approach is rejected with the contempt it deserves. Numsa and its striking members are firm that section 37 must remain as it is in the MEIBC Main Agreement.

4.2 Refusal to outlaw Labour Brokers in the Engineering Industry – Our members remain extremely angry and irritated by the refusal of employers to do away with labour brokers through an agreement with the Union as it has been the case in the Auto sector and Tyre sector in South Africa. The stance of employers and their misleading propaganda that they want to maintain labour brokers for flexibility is completely false because already in the industry the union have accommodated employers demand for flexibility through fixed term contacts.

What does not make sense about their demand is the fact that on paper, labour broker workers in the industry enjoy the same benefits and conditions includingthe same wages that are paid to the rest of workers in the industry. The question to ask is why employers want to continue with this practice? Why do employersstill want to allow poor workers to be abused by slavery and a human trafficking system as it finds expression in labour brokers?

4.3 Refusal to release Numsa Shopstewards to undertake industry commitments and union business – A sticky issue that will cause this strike to continue is again the serious levels of backwardness in this sector where employers are refusing to agree to paid time off for Shopstewards to attend meetings that they are supposed to attend together with employers.

What is strange and unacceptable is the fact the employer representatives who participate in industry committees would not suffer any loss of earnings whilst attending these meetings but Numsa Shopstewards are expected to attend industry meetings with loss of income. These meetings that employers want to limit time off to five days per annum for Shopstewards are meetings that aresupposed to be attended by both Management and Shopstewards such asMerseta meetings, Mibfa meetings and various subcommittee meetings in the interest of both employers and workers in the industry.

4.4 Housing Allowance – Employers rejected our demand for a housing subsidy/allowance which demand is meant to help their workers who stay in squatter camps. Their nonsensical argument suggests that employers are not the same and therefore Numsa cannot take a blanket approach by demandinghousing subsidy/allowance because some companies can afford and some can not. What is however disingenuous about this employer argument is the fact that the very same employers say that nothing can be demanded at shopfloor level that has got an on cost. Their contradictory argument is seen by the fact that they are demanding an amendment to Section 37 thereby disallowing any plant level engagements. How dishonest can employers be?

Violence and acts of intimidation/harassment:

NUMSA is on record as saying that we do not condone or support violence and intimidation during strike action.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa commends our striking workers for swiftly causing the arrest and apprehension of ten (10) criminals masquerading as Numsa members in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng province.

The criminals were loitering around wearing Numsa t-shirts committing acts of criminality and violence, including damage to property around the area of Benoni. The criminals were arrested because of the swift action of Numsa members and strike marshals. Nothing best confirms the discipline of Numsa members than this behavior during the strike.

We are fully aware that rightwing political formations such as the DA and others, and rightwing media “experts” are calling for the outlawing of strike action, and they are picking on isolated incidents as examples to advance their inhuman demands. We fought for the right to belong and form trade unions, and to strike, with our blood, actually. We will not allow, 20 years into our untransformed racist colonial economy and society, any right-wingers or organisations, thugs or similar anti-working class forces to dilute or destroy our hard won trade union rights.

The strike in the engineering sector continues indefinitely:

We are making a very clear statement that the strike continues, and we call on our members to intensify the strike.

Should the employers continue with the reckless shenanigans and making unreasonable demands, we might be left with no option but to call for targeted solidarity action in all our sectors. This is seriously under consideration.

Workers are not stupid, nor do they enjoying losing their hard earned miserable wages. Only a very insensitive racist can claim that Black and African workers, who suffer daily in their townships and shacks because of their colonial and racist wages love to be on strike and desire to destroy the South African economy.

We remain committed to return to serious negotiations on the demands of our members.

Irvin Jim
Numsa General Secretary on behalf of Numsa NOBs.
13th July 2014
Enquiries: Castro Ngobese, Spokesperson, 0836275197