Numsa Takes To Streets Fighting Anti-Union Laws

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South African unions rally in Johannesburg last Wednesday in defence of their rights
South African unions rally in Johannesburg last Wednesday in defence of their rights

ANGRY members of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), took to the streets of Johannesburg protesting proposed amendments to the labour laws. The union says they will reverse the hard-won gains on workers’ rights.

NUMSA has called for a general strike on April 25 to defend the right to strike. Wearing red t-shirts, whistling, singing struggle songs with loud music playing from a truck, and dancing the toyi-toyi dance, thousands of workers marched to the provincial government offices and the Department of Labour.

The march took place on Wednesday, March 21, which was also Human Rights Day – a public holiday remembering the resistance against apartheid that led to the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 in which 69 people were shot dead by the police for protesting against the notorious Pass Laws.

NUMSA and a coalition of 20 other organisations, including the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) to which NUMSA is affiliated, the Casual Workers Advice Office, and the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) say the amendments are ‘a coordinated attack on workers’ which needs a ‘counter attack’. If the labour laws amendments are passed the right to strike, to living wages and to collective bargaining will be taken away from workers.

Other non-wage rights on housing and land enjoyed by workers which are part of benefits in the sectoral minimum wages set by the minister of labour will be adversely affected. The right to an efficient and fair dispute resolution system will also be negatively affected by the amendments.

The coalition demands that the amendments on strike balloting, picketing rules, longer conciliation and compulsory arbitration be abandoned. The right to strike over unfair dismissals should be restored, and employers must be stopped from using scab labour to break strikes. The extension of collective bargaining agreements should only happen when the majority of workers in a sector are unionised. Workers should also be involved in decisions on the national minimum wage.

Once the minimum wage is agreed upon, labour inspectors must ensure compliance. NUMSA also condemned the introduction of a national minimum wage of R3,500 ($294). The minimum wage was supposed to become effective on May 1, but the date has been extended.

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa, said: ‘Workers’ rights are constitutional rights that cannot be taken away and attempts to do so must be resisted. ‘We rally behind NUMSA in defence of the right to strike. ‘We also support living wages because they are one of the ways that workers and their families can move out of poverty.’

Workers’ rights are human rights, NUMSA leadership says, adding that they can’t allow company CEOs to earn R8,625 an hour while workers starve. NUMSA members were enraged and infuriated as they gathered last Wednesday at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg. They were there not to join in festivities related to Human Rights Day, but to dispute proposed changes to labour laws and the national minimum wage.

The Labour Department is considering making changes to the Labour Relations Act and Basic Conditions of Employment Act, but NUMSA believes the proposed amendments will make it impossible for workers to go on strike. Hundreds of NUMSA members marched to the Gauteng Legislature to hand over their memorandum, demanding government to end ‘slavery’ labour laws.

‘We will not allow the government to pay us a minimum wage when we have so many mouths to feed,’ one NUMSA member said.

NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola emphasised the need to remind the government of the importance of human rights. ‘On this day, workers were killed by the apartheid government for protesting against the “dompas”. ‘We are here again in 2018 to remind this ‘so-called’ democratic government that workers’ rights are human rights,’ she said.

Hlubi-Majola assured members the union would continue to fight for workers’ rights until they are changed. She added: ‘We will not allow workers to earn R20 and hour while President Cyril Ramaphosa earns over R3 million a year. ‘If you are a domestic worker, Ramaphosa says you deserve to earn R15 an hour. If you are a farmworker, he says you deserve to earn R18 per hour.

‘This is all happening while CEO’s are earning R8,625 per hour. They are rich because of these workers, yet workers are being told that they deserve to earn slave wages.’

In support of Hlubi-Majola, NUMSA members chanted: ‘Away with Ramaphosa’, ‘Away with slavery’. ‘Since the government has decided that they own the means of production; on the 25 April, we have decided that there will be a one-day protected strike. We will not pay for the consequences of their actions,’ said John Appolis, GIWUSA (General Industries Workers Union of South Africa) member.

A statement by Hlubi-Majola said: ‘The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is calling on all workers to embark on a general strike on the 25th of April 2018 to defend the right to strike. ‘On the 1st of May this year the state intends to implement a raft of new changes to the labour laws. One of the changes is the state intends to impose secret ballots as a condition before we can go on strike.

‘The balloting process is complicated, costly and cumbersome. If implemented, it will make it impossible for workers to go on strike. NUMSA is part of a coalition of 21 pro-working class movements who have rejected the proposed changes to the labour law. ‘At least 5,000 workers took to the streets on Human Rights Day to remind the ANC government that “Workers Rights are Human Rights”. We handed over a memorandum of demands to the Department of Labour. Our primary demand is that the new labour laws which are to be implemented on Workers Day must be scrapped!

‘Below are some of our demands:

‘1. Scrap the New labour laws, they are an attack on workers and their families ‘2. Scrap the amendments on strike ballots, picketing rules, longer conciliation and compulsory arbitration. ‘3. Restore the right of workers to strike over things like unfair dismissal (disputes of rights).

‘4. Bosses must not be able to use scab labour/‘amagundwane’ during protected strikes. They use these tools to undermine our strike.

‘5. Unions must organise the majority of workers in a sector before bargaining council agreements can be extended to non-unionised workers in the sector.

‘These laws will be applied to all workers in South Africa, but the majority of workers were not consulted. ‘The state only consulted the leadership of FEDUSA; NACTU and COSATU who form part of NEDLAC. The leadership of these unions sold out their members and workers and their families for political expediency.

‘NUMSA will work with #ScrapNewLabourLaws coalition to mobilise every worker in the country about the negative impact of the labour laws. ‘The only power we have to negotiate improved working and living conditions is our right to strike.

‘NUMSA is calling on every worker to join the coalition and join us as we embark on a national general strike to shut down the economy on the 25th of April, 2018. ‘It is only through the unity of all workers that we will have the power to fight back against the state’s unrelenting attack on our hard won rights.’