NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Shopfloor:’World class’ company pays poverty wages

21 November 2006, Posted in News

Workers earn R320 per week after 18 years service

Jenny GriceCBI Industries might be getting international recognition for its competence in the field of electrical distribution and protection components, but on the wage rates it pays its workers, it is more likely to achieve notoriety.Even after 18 years service, CBI workers and Numsa shop stewards Mpai Mile and Mathabo Mokoena have to make do on R320 per week (R1385.60 per month).With three children to support on her meagre wage, Mile’s essential monthly expenses are: R200 electricity bill (steep because she bakes to supplement her income); R500 for her son’s university fees; R260 for her taxi fare to and from work. But once she has paid these, there is little left to sustain her family.In 2003 Unisa’s Bureau of Market Research estimated that the average African family of five needed an income of R2600 per month to just survive. Adjusting for inflation, and Mile’s smaller household, it means she would now need at least R2400 per month – that’s almost double what she currently receives.Mile is not alone. There are about 900 other workers like her employed at the company’s three plants in Puthaditjhaba in Qwa Qwa near Harrismith. Some of them have clocked up 20 years service.The company set up factories in Qwa Qwa when the apartheid government provided lucrative incentives like wage subsidies and exempted them from having to comply with wage rates set down by centralised bargaining arrangements. The government was desperate to prop up its artificially created homelands. But after 1994, the new government removed these subsidies. And companies like CBI have since then looked around for alternatives to reduce costs. Last year it set up shop just across the border in Lesotho. According to Thebere Hlalele, regional organiser in Numsa’s Free State region, CBI workers in this factory are paid half the Qwa Qwa rates. This is after the Lesotho government agreed to subsidise workers’ monthly costs in a desperate attempt to lure investment into the country.Just last month, CBI CE Helmuth Fischer told Business Day that “he would not be a good businessman if he did not consider the options available”. He said that his company could reduce costs considerably if it relocated all its operations to Lesotho and opened a sales office in SA.”We are hard workers,” says Mile. “We are willing to accept an exemption so that the company does not have to pay the full rates set by the Engineering Bargaining Council, but we want CBI to give us more money.””If we were to lose our jobs, it would not be easy,” says Mokoena. “There are no jobs where we live. There are many young people with matrics looking for jobs.”

Sectors booming but workers suffer under restructuring and short time

Mziwakhe HlanganiFor tens of thousands of workers and activists in the auto industry a new dawn of political freedom 12 years ago represented real transformation.However few if any expected that issues related to total economic liberation of the black majority and job security would still remain a huge challenge.The country’s largest auto assembly plants, bus manufacturers and train carriage manufacturer are pursuing reactionary tactics to hold back labour gains and weaken unions. Most of these companies have adopted regressive restructuring plans, short-term lay-offs and short-time or flexible working shift patterns to save money. These include Daimler Chrysler SA, BMW, Ford SA, Toyota SA, VWSA and Union Carriage.Numsa has realised that challenges faced by its members are immense. For example, Daimler Chrysler’s plan to shut down its operations for four months next year will affect more than 38 supplier firms in the Eastern Cape, further affecting more than 3 000 workers.Although vehicle manufacturers often report exceedingly high production performance levels, high export growth and record sales, they have consciously taken bold initiatives to violate worker rights, through outsourcing, restructuring, threatening shop stewards and consequently weakening trade unions.”Toyota South Africa management has subjected Numsa shop stewards to disciplinary hearings after workers embarked on a wildcat strike, when they demanded that the general manager address them on restructuring plans,” Numsa chief legal coordinator Booysen Mashego said.Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company has fired 17 workers and reportedly threatened to take disciplinary action against several shop stewards after workers downed tools in protest against share scheme bonuses exclusively awarded to salaried staff members.Numsa is also concerned about the dismissal of several workers at BMW Pretoria plant for allegedly participating in an illegal work stoppage and attempts by the company management to discipline shop stewards en-masse for allegedly inciting the strike.More than 417 workers at Union Carriage, the giant locomotive carriage assembly plant also encountered the same experiences. They were forced to work three days a week, earning a meagre R300 a week for 20 weeks.The company insisted that it was pressurised to cut jobs because it could not clinch lucrative deals with government. But the situation has since been reversed after Transnet entered into an agreement with the company to build 212 carriages and 110 locomotive cars.In VWSA, Numsa members have been protesting against management’s unilateral decision to introduce short time for eight weeks. This is despite the union’s rejection of the plan.”Workers achieved good quality production for both export and domestic markets and as a result, the company has won more contracts for the export market. It is still facing a huge demand in the local market, but because their paint shop does not have enough capacity, management unilaterally decided to drop the volumes and send workers on short time,” Jim said.Numsa has called on VWSA to compensate for its poor production planning and to pay workers their full wages. While it is refusing to pay workers these few hours that are critical for workers’ survival, in the same month it registered a profit of more than R235 million.