Numsa Forging Ahead With Month Long Arcelormittal Strike Action

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Mass demonstration calling for unity of the working class in the fight for better wages and conditions in South Africa

THE NATIONAL Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said last Wednesday that it is forging ahead with a month-long strike at the local subsidiary of multinational steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal.

Neither ArcelorMittal, nor the British High Commission office were immediately available for comment.

Numsa has revealed its strike plan after its members had handed over a memorandum of demands to the UK Embassy in Pretoria last Tuesday, which also highlighted the exploitation and alleged abuse of workers at ArcelorMittal South Africa.

ArcelorMittal is the world’s biggest steel manufacturer with over 300,000 workers internationally, and has 60 offices globally.

At least 2,000 permanent employees and contract workers have been on strike since March 12th. Numsa says a large number of its members are at a disadvantage, because they were employed through contractors Real Tree Trading and Monyetla Services but actually work for ArcelorMittal.

It wants all contract workers to become fully in-sourced by ArcelorMittal and earn the same salary and benefits as other permanent workers.

Numsa’s Hlanganani regional secretary Jerry Morulane said: ‘We are told that the contractors are service providers and not labour brokers.’

He stressed: ‘ArcelorMittal puts profits before people by forcing contract workers to be exposed to a dangerous working environment.’

The union added that ArcelorMittal South Africa ‘should immediately reinstate the union’s shop steward’, who it said had been dismissed in 2016 for objecting when management failed to adhere to health and safety rules.

‘We are demanding that the UK ambassador engage with the management of ArcelorMittal on these demands over the next seven days,’ Morulane said.

‘In the meantime, our members are determined to continue the strike. They refuse to be bullied by the management of ArcelorMittal.

‘This is a just strike to abolish outsourcing and to ensure that all workers are remunerated fairly.’

Last year, Numsa won a landmark judgment in the Constitutional Court which stipulates that workers brought in through labour brokers must be permanently employed after three months of working full time for the main employer.

ArcelorMittal and the British High Commission office said they were not immediately available for comment, yet in a statement late last month ArcelorMittal proposed a process to in-source some workers with critical skills currently employed at service providers over a three-year period, as part of its business optimisation programme.

It said it had agreed to a second investigation of the matter of the shop steward, despite the issue already having been fully investigated and a finding made in favour of the company at the Metals and Engineering Industry Bargaining Council of South Africa.

ArcelorMittal has also denied that employees were at risk at the company, saying safety remained its number one priority and was essential to its sustainability.

  • Irvin Jim, general secretary of South Africa’s largest trade union – the 370 000-member strong National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) – is also the new chairperson of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP).

Jim accepted the nomination for the position over the weekend at the end of the three-day inaugural SRWP congress attended by more than 1,000 delegates.

They included representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Morocco, Tunisia, Zambia, Namibia, Sweden, Spain, the US and Nepal.

Also serving on the leadership structure’s central committee, tasked with growing membership, refining policies and the new party’s constitution, is Numsa national spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola.

The SRWP, which is expected to dent the ANC’s worker support base, is contesting the May 2019 national polls.

The SRWP also enjoys the support of Zwelinzima Vavi’s fledgling South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) with 531,000 members.

According to Jim, the decision to launch a workers’ party was taken at Numsa’s special congress in 2013 – triggered by unhappiness with the ANC government ‘not taking up worker issues’.

Jim has described Cosatu’s role within the alliance as that of ‘rubber-stamping ANC right-wing policies’, which he claims will include the sale of state assets amid the unbundling of Eskom.

The SRWP has resolved to determine ‘a living wage’ for its MPs, with a percentage of earnings going to party coffers, similar to the levies imposed by the EFF on its representatives.

The following are some of the wide-ranging, pro-working class resolutions adopted by the SRWP congress:

  • Members serving on its national leadership should not be appointed to parliament or Cabinet.
  • Party membership eligibility should be open from the age of 14, with socialist programmes taking place during school holidays.
  • All the party’s cadres should undergo rigorous political training, sign a code of conduct and go through a 60-day induction programme.
  • Online, community and the mainstream media should be used to reach out to potential members.
  • A single education system for all South Africans should be created, eliminating private schools. Agricultural studies should be taught from primary school right up to the higher levels.
  • The ministry of education should be depoliticised by following a process similar to that of the public protector in appointing the minister. This will ensure ‘the minister does not carry political party baggage’.
  • The troubled National Student Financial Aid Scheme should be scrapped and be replaced by ‘free and decolonised education’.
  • Government’s tender system and broad-based black economic empowerment should be abolished. This should be replaced by new legislation to curb fronting.
  • Labour brokers should be done away with.

At the same time, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) conducted a fact-finding mission at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Driefontein mine in Carletonville – in the context of  the four-and-a-half-month wage strike that has claimed nine lives.

The visit came after employees and community members approached the commission to raise concerns that the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) led strike could lead to another Marikana tragedy like that of mid-August 2012.

The SAHRC said it would investigate alleged human rights violations and attempt to broker a deal to end the strike.

‘The commission will seek to examine whether the mining company and the labour unions have exercised their best endeavours to resolve the ongoing industrial dispute and whether sufficient safeguards and measures have been employed to ensure the safety of employees and prevent the outbreak of violence,’ the SAHRC said.

It also plans to further examine the role played by the SAPS in dealing with incidents and responding to the threat and outbreak of violence between any parties.

‘The commission intends engaging with the labour unions, management and the police to establish the causes of the prolonged labour strike and the resultant deaths,’ specified the commission.

During a visit to Carletonville last month, Police Minister Bheki Cele launched a ‘crime’ combating and reaction team in response to the killings, assaults and the torching of homes and vehicles of the non-striking workers.

Amcu is demanding a R1,000 a month wage hike despite the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), trade union Solidarity and the United Association of South Africa (Uasa) agreeing to R700 a month in the first and second year and R825 a month in the third year for entry level employees.

Sibanye-Stillwater said it would approach the Labour Court to declare the strike as unprotected after results of its verification exercise supported management’s position that NUM, Solidarity and Uasa collectively represented the majority of employees at the South African gold operations.