NUMSA fights attempt to ban South Africa bus strike

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Striking SATAWU bus workers picket line in Gauteng in May
Striking SATAWU bus workers picket line in Gauteng in May

THE NATIONAL Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has opposed an application to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) Essential Services Committee (ESC) which has been tasked with determining whether public transportation is an essential service.

The application by the Black Consumer Council claims that workers in the transport sector should be categorised as essential service. If successful, it would prevent the workers from taking part in any legally protected strike.

NUMSA made presentations to the council saying the transportation sector doesn’t fall into the legal definition of what constitutes an essential service. NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said: ‘We view this application as an attack on the right to strike. The public will be informed about the outcome.’

Last Friday morning, NUMSA made presentations at the CCMA as to why the transport sector should not be deemed an essential service. NUMSA says this will undermine the rights of workers to strike.

Over 17,000 drivers joined a bus strike in May, leaving thousands of commuters stranded in parts of the country for almost a month. Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said: ‘As Numsa we resist any attempts by the government to take away the right to strike.

‘And we see this process as another way this government is trying to take away the hard-won right of the working class to strike.’ A NUMSA statement said: ‘The Black Consumer Council based its claims on the fact that the community was greatly inconvenienced by the national bus strike which took place in March this year.

‘They also based their claim on the impact that the strike had on the economy. NUMSA made presentations to the ESC to reject this application on the basis it does not meet the legal definition for what constitutes an essential service. Furthermore, there is no evidence that striking workers in the bus passenger sector resulted in the loss of life, which is the requirement in terms of the law. We view this application as nothing more than an attack on the right to strike, and we have opposed it.’

Earlier on Friday, the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) said it was also opposing BSC’s bid. ‘SATAWU will oppose the application on the basis that it is frivolous and seeks to strip the constitutional rights of workers to improve their working conditions,’ the union said.

Meanwhile, the ANC government has offered families of the slain Marikana mine workers a R100m settlement for general damages, six years after the massacre. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute, which represents 320 claimants who have sued for loss of support and emotional shock, said last Thursday it had to consult the families on the offer.

Workers who were injured during the massacre and those who were arrested in its aftermath also received settlement proposals a month ago, which were rejected. Forty-four people, among them security guards and police officers, were killed during the violent protracted strike by Lonmin mine workers in Marikana near Rustenburg in August 2012. The majority of victims were shot dead by the police.

About 250 people were arrested following the massacre, while 70 workers were injured. The families filed claims in August 2015 against the minister of police for compensation and a formal apology for the loss of their loved ones. In 2017, the South African Police Service said the government had received 653 claims for loss of support, assault, arrest and detention, estimating that the damages could cost up to R1.1bn.

In the same year, one family was paid R3.9m for loss of support. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute and other lawyers representing the interested parties have in the past complained of the government’s slow pace in settling the matter. Most of the strikers who were killed in Marikana were sole breadwinners, each supporting at least ten people, according to estimates by unions.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has assured the public several times that the government was committed to concluding the Marikana matter. During a TV interview last Monday he said there were processes that needed to be followed through and finalised with regards to the various lawsuits.

‘I thought it would be best to clean all that up so that when finally one goes… we should have a situation where we are able to effectively put closure to this matter and heal the wounds,’ Ramaphosa said. He told Parliament during his state of the nation address reply that he was ‘determined to play whatever role I can, and in this I am guided by the wishes of the community’.

Ramaphosa was accused of being complicit in the decision by the SAPS management to use live ammunition against mine workers in 2012. He said in his interview: ‘I know it has to be addressed. There has been discussions to address the tragedies by healing the wounds, they need to be met, I need to be there, which I am going to do. And there are other processes that need to be followed through and finalised with regard to the various lawsuits that have been launched.’

With the Marikana anniversary fast approaching, the ANC government is under pressure to produce evidence of the progress it has made since the Farlam commission of inquiry. The commission, chaired by retired Judge Ian Gordon Farlam, released its findings in 2015, making several recommendations on various issues. Its mandate was ‘to investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the tragic incidents’.

Last week, NUMSA called for mining deaths to be a criminal offence. As its statement last Tuesday, 17 July said: ‘NUMSA sends its deepest condolences to the loved ones of the six workers who died underground in Limpopo at the Palabora Mining Company’s copper mine on Sunday, after a fire broke out underground in the early hours of Sunday morning.

‘Mine safety remains a huge problem in our country. A spate of deaths at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations, including a seismic event that killed seven miners in early May, has highlighted this crisis. One death underground is far too many and we have seen shockingly high levels of fatalities in the sector in recent years.

‘Once again the capitalist system has demonstrated its brutality against the working class. The mining industry does not value the lives of African workers in the sector and that is why we continue to see high numbers of fatalities in the industry. We call for a full investigation into this incident, and in the sector as a whole. Furthermore, we reinforce calls made by our federation SAFTU for the Mine Health and Safety Act to be amended to allow for the prosecution of mine bosses if workers are killed underground. They must be held personally liable for lives lost underground. Perhaps if this is done, we will begin to see an end to fatalities underground.

‘The only permanent solution to this crisis is for mines to be nationalised. These are strategic assets which should be placed under the democratic ownership of the working class. They should not be profit driven, and used as vehicles to enrich the elite minority. Instead, they should operate for the benefit of the working class majority and society in general. This is the kind of society we are fighting for with the formation of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party. The SRWP will be a sword and a spear to drive an agenda in the interests of the working class majority, who are the creators of wealth in our society.’