Class Struggle Sharpening In South Africa!

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South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union members marching to defend the right to strike

THE National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), as the majority union at the Clinix Health Group, is on strike today over substantive issues.

The strike is a result of failed wage negotiations between NEHAWU and the employer. Negotiations have been ongoing since the 4th September 2020 and collapsed after parties failed to find consensus.
The national union submitted its demands to the employer which included amongst others the following demands:

  • 10% wage increase across the board.
  • Minimum salary of R6,500.
  • Housing allowance of R1,500.
  • Uniform annual top-up.

In countering the 10% salary increase demanded by the union, the employer tabled a zero per cent increase offer.
As if that was not enough, the employer went further to threaten unilateral withdrawal of the meal allowances which formed part of the conditions of employment for workers with effect from 1st October 2020.
An internal dispute hearing in line with the recognition agreement was convened on the 2nd October 2020.
The deadlock could not be resolved because the employer presented an alternative proposal to retrench workers as a tactic to counter the union demands.
This was indeed a sarcastic response and a clear demonstration that the deadlock could not be resolved. The dispute was then referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and the conciliation hearing sat on 28th October 2020 and remained unresolved until parties were issued with a certificate of non-resolution.
The national union convened membership meetings for reporting and balloting for the strike and members of the union in numbers voted in favour of the strike.
NEHAWU served the employer with the 48-hour strike notice on Thursday December 10th for the strike to start today, on Monday December 14th.
The following workplaces/hospitals are affected by the strike action: Dr Matseke Memorial Hospital, Naledi Nkanyezi Private Hospital, Tshepo Themba Private Hospital, Boshelong Private Hospital and Victoria Hospital.
The employer is obviously failing to demonstrate and appreciate the sacrifices that workers in these hospitals have made with their lives to keep afloat the survival of their business and to save lives of society during the lockdown period and beyond.

  • The COSATU-affiliated Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) has won an important Labour Court judgment which strengthens the right to strike.

The background is as follows:
The South African Carpet Manufacturers’ Employers Association (SACMEA) had lodged an urgent Labour Court interdict application against a SACTWU-led wage strike in the carpet textile sector, in late October this year.
Our members in this sector had embarked on a national wage strike, after wage negotiations had, in our view, failed to yield a settlement.
The employers had claimed that the strike was unprotected (‘illegal’). They alleged that an agreement had already been reached which had settled our 2020 wage dispute. As legal substantiation, they argued that the earlier ‘South African Post Office vs Communication Workers Union’ Labour Court judgment sets legal precedent regarding such matter.
In addition, they claimed that the Certificate of Non-Resolution, which had been issued by the Commissioner who had handled the conciliation of this wage dispute, had no standing in law.
The parties had been engaging in tough negotiations for months. A settlement appeared to have been reached which would guarantee annual bonus payments to employees.
However, the employers claimed that the agreement was subject to a profitability exercise. The union rejected this claim that such a conditionality was ever agreed to.
The union then conducted a strike ballot and on receipt of a firm mandate to strike, sanctioned and called the wage strike. The strike commenced during the last week of October this year.
An interim interdict by consent was awarded, and SACTWU suspended the strike, pending the return Court date of 27 November 2020 when the matter was to be finally determined.
Labour Court Judge J Gush handed down judgment earlier this week, in favour of the trade union.
Amongst others, he ruled that ‘… Section 64 of the LRA (Labour Relations Act) provides that a condition precedent to embarking on protected industrial action is the issuing of a certificate that the dispute remains unresolved …’.
He concluded that ‘… the condition precedent to the respondents exercising the right to strike in terms of Section 64 of the LRA, namely that a certificate that the dispute remained unresolved had been satisfied …’
In addition, the judgment stated that ‘… there is no evidence to suggest that the dispute was in fact resolved and agreement reached …’
This judgment is important in many respects, but mainly because it firmly refutes the previously held legal view that a Certificate of Non-Resolution has no standing in law.
The judgment, in summary, confirms that SACTWU’s carpet sector national wage strike is indeed a protected (‘legal’) strike.
The union is now considering its organisational options, including when to lift our voluntary suspension of this wage strike.
We will never allow employers to opportunistically use the Covid-19 pandemic to undermine and weaken our fight for a living wage.
We are deeply concerned about constant employer attacks on workers’ right to strike, not only in our sector.
We call on all trade unions and all workers in all industries to fiercely and determinedly resist such reactionary employer attempts to weaken our fundamental and constitutionally protected right to strike.
Issued by
André Kriel
SACTWU
GENERAL SECRETARY

  • The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) is not shocked by the announcement made by the Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize, that the country has entered a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

On the 24th November 2020, during our Community Healthcare Workers (CHWs) strike we highlighted the skyrocketing daily infection rate and warned of an impending second wave.
At that time, the number of people needing hospitalisation grew astronomically on a daily basis and hospital beds had totally ran out in the Nelson Mandela Bay area in the Eastern Cape. Furthermore, the national union also highlighted the unpreparedness of our healthcare system to deal with a second wave of infections.
We strongly believe that the announcement by the Minister is a bit delayed because the recent surge has already been putting more strain on our members and workers who are overworked because of understaffing, inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and medicines.
On the 1st December 2020 the leadership of the national union visited the Witbank Hospital in Emalahleni, in Mpumalanga and what it found at that hospital was saddening to say the least.
A single nurse was responsible for four wards because her colleagues were at home quarantining after being exposed to the virus. The wards were dirty and looked like they had not been cleaned in a long while.
The situation at the Witbank hospital is not an isolated incident as most of our members across the country are still complaining about the intermittent supply of quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), understaffing and non-compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.
The shortcomings and inadequacies by hospitals and clinics were highlighted in our fact-finding mission report of our National Office Bearers (NOB’s) which was widely shared by the national union.
As NEHAWU, we hold a strong view that if the recommendations of the fact-finding mission report were implemented we would not find ourselves in such a dire situation as the country.
Once more we believe that it would be very tragic if many people lose their lives because the department elected to ignore the recommendations made by the report.
As announced by our Central Executive Committee (CEC) which was convened on the 7th to the 8th December 2020 the union will continue to monitor the situation with hawk eyes and encourage our members and workers not to work if their lives are in danger.
Furthermore, we will compel the Department of Employment of Employment and Labour to act harshly against employers who do not comply with the OHS Act and recklessly expose workers to the virus, if that fails then the union will do everything at its disposal even considering to approach courts in defence of its members and workers in general.
As directed by the CEC, the national union will also intensify its call for the impact training and recruitment of more labour inspectors.
The health and safety of our members and workers remains our main priority and we are more than prepared to fight tooth and nail to guarantee their safety.
Just yesterday, a total of 6,709 new infections were recorded and soon more people will need hospitalisation and medical care.
Once more our members and workers who are frontline workers will be expected to go beyond the call of duty to treat and care for the infected despite the fatigue and depression that they are going through since the first recorded positive Covid-19 case on the 5th March 2020.
These are the same workers who are yet to receive their salary increase which was due on the 1st April 2020 and supposedly given incentives as a form of appreciating their sacrifices of putting their lives and families in favour of saving the lives of South Africans.
In this regard, we call on our government to do the right thing and pay these workers and all public servants their salary increase with immediate effect as they are dejected by the uncaring nature of our government including giving frontline workers their deservingly incentives for the sacrifice demonstrated in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
We want to highlight to government that these workers are low on morale and if we are to wage a serious war against the invisible enemy then we must motivate our soldiers by paying them what is due to them, their salary increase and also consider a danger allowance or incentive as well.
Lastly, we want to appeal to our people in the country, especially in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape to be more cautious and avoid getting infected by the virus by applying and complying with all Covid-19 regulations meant to manage the spread of this virus in order to save their lives, particularly, during this time of the second waves and festive season.
Let’s all do what is necessary and celebrate the festive holidays wisely including respecting our lives as South Africans.
At this point, we take this opportunity to wish all our members and workers of this country a merry Christmas and prosperous new year and also assure those who will be in the line of duty during the festive season that your union, NEHAWU, will be with you at all material times in defending and protecting your rights as human beings responsible for improving the living conditions and lives of people of this country in particular the working class and the poor.
Issued by Khaya Xaba, National Spokesperson, NEHAWU, 10th December 2020.