THE National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) says it has ‘every intention’ of mounting a court challenge to the lock-out by the National Employers Association of SA (Neasa).
Last week, the employers association announced that its members would engage in a lock-out of union members who participated in the recent four-week metal industry pay strike.
Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said that after lengthy consultation with its legal advisers, the union had recognised that there was ‘nothing absolute in the law’, but it had ‘every intention to challenge the legality of the lock-out’.
The lock-out comes after Neasa refused to sign last week’s settlement agreement reached between Numsa, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) and five other unions.
More than 200,000 Numsa members in the metal and engineering sectors downed tools on July 1st, demanding a salary increase of 12%, down from their pre-strike demand of 15%.
They then revised their demand to 10% but also demanded a R1,000 housing allowance and a total ban on labour brokers.
The strike ended on July 28, when unions accepted a wage increase of between 8% and 10%, depending on whether they were high or low earners, over three years.
However, NEASA claimed that the 10% increase agreed on was unaffordable for most of its members, some of whom proceeded to lock out their workers and vow to challenge the extension of the agreement which will test collective bargaining principles.
The employers want a standardised entry level wage and a revamped exemptions policy. It also wants an 8% across-the-board salary increase.
NEASA CEO Gehard Papenfus said that the employers would spend much of tomorrow’s meeting with the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council raising its concerns about the possible extension of the deal.
He said the lock-out was justified in the same way that Numsa withdrew its labour to show its strength.
NEASA refused to reveal on Tuesday how many of its members were locking out workers, but Numsa has placed the figure at about 60 of the 3,000 members Neasa represents, mostly small businesses.
At a media briefing in Johannesburg, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa joined the chorus of criticism of the employers’ lock-out and said NUMSA had ‘waged a successful battle in the fight for a living wage’.
‘After a month-long sacrifice, an agreement was signed. We express our disdain for the fact that NEASA proceeding with this lock-out.
‘The lock-out . . . shouldn’t apply in this case as the strike is over and workers want to go back to work. We have had conditions imposed on us as a union before. Why is it different when it is employers?’
AMCU’s condemnation followed that of Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi in a speech at a SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union regional conference in Bloemfontein, Free State on Saturday.
‘Look at the behaviour of some engineering employers who are locking our members out of their factories, because these greedy bosses reject the wage settlement brokered by the minister of labour and signed by their colleagues at the bargaining council,’ he said.
Vavi said the main beneficiaries of the country’s 20 years of democracy had been the billionaires who owned industries and the chief executives ‘who demand parity with their counterparts in the USA and Europe’ while expecting workers wages to be benchmarked against levels in sweatshop economies.
‘Yet they want to widen these divisions further, always complaining that their workers keep making unaffordable wage demands and mounting attacks on collective bargaining, trade union rights, labour laws and institutions like Nedlac (National Economic Development and Labour Council) and the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration).
He said employers wanted to declare war rather than seek peace. They want a return to the days when they could use the unemployed in what Karl Marx called the “reserve army of labour” as a battering ram to force workers to work for whatever the boss offers with no union to protect them from exploitation, abuse and racism at work.’
On Tuesday, Numsa also dismissed as ‘propaganda’ claims in a press release by Neasa that the union had launched and then withdrawn on Monday an application against the lock-out in the Labour Court.
Cloete denied approaching the court on Monday, saying Neasa was ‘fabricating some propaganda to make Numsa look bad’.
NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim told a media briefing on Tuesday that while the lock-out was ‘illegal’, NUMSAwas not rushing to court yet.
• The South Africa Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu) has warned that all its 1,800 members at Sovereign Foods chicken factory might go on ‘a full-blown strike’.
Hundreds of Saccawu workers have withdrawn their labour since last Thursday after the union and the employer failed to reach an agreement following six months of negotiations. The workers earn R12.41 an hour and are demanding an hourly wage increase of R8 and better working conditions.
They accuse the company of not caring for its workers, saying it had offered them a mere 18 cents an hour increase. Workers at the company have been complaining for years about what they say is unfair treatment as some have to walk more than 5km in the early morning hours. They have also complained about the use of labour brokers and poor working conditions.
On Tuesday, about 300 workers picketed outside the company’s gates. Police were parked nearby monitoring the picket. There was no violence.
Saccawu Uitenhage organiser Chris Thwalo said: ‘The workers initially demanded an increase of R8 across the board, but you know with negotiations you do not always get what you want. We have been negotiating for a long time and we are still willing to negotiate, but an increase of 18 cents is an insult to each and every dog out there.
‘We tried our best and we are not people who negotiate in Amcu-style of demanding a fixed amount and not moving from it. We came up with many alternatives to try and resolve the impasse but the employer has failed to meet us halfway.
‘Should the parties fail to reach an agreement soon, the union’s 1,800 members at the factory might go on a full-blown strike.’
The workers are also demanding medical aid, provident fund and transportation. Worker Fuzile Mthethani said women became easy prey for criminals when they worked the late-night shift or in the early hours of the morning.
‘There is no transport and workers are being robbed and raped when they are done with the morning shift,’ she explained. The company does not care about the workers. All the bosses are concerned about is making a profit.
‘We work 12-hour shifts and get one break which is only 30 minutes. If you spend more than seven minutes in the toilet, they deduct money from you because they say no one should be there that long.’
Another worker, Makhosonke December, said when chicken cutters injured themselves with the sharp machine they used, they would be told they were careless or even given a written warning.