Sa Workers Battle ‘Poverty Wages’

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THERE is no end in sight to the strike at South African retail giant Shoprite’s distribution centre in Centurion, Gauteng Province, with workers vowing to continue until management meets their demands.

Shoprite is the biggest grocer in Africa by the number of stores. Staff downed tools on Monday over issues of outsourcing and pay. The Centurion facility is the largest distribution centre under one roof on the continent. It serves as the distribution point for about 90% of products delivered to stores in the Gauteng area and beyond.

Strike leader Inspector Malepe said on Friday that the strike would continue indefinitely. He said: ‘We work in shifts here. Until yesterday, shift 1 and shift 2 were on strike. Today, shift three and shift four are supposed to take over from us but they have decided to join us in striking. This weekend, no work will be done here.’

According to the General Industries Workers Union (GIWUSA), which is involved in the strike, about 90% of the 1,000 workers at the facility are employed by labour brokers who pay ‘poverty wages’. The union said outsourced Shoprite workers were being paid R23/hour in a 44-hour week. Workers were requesting a minimum monthly salary of R10,000.

The strike is hitting home. In early morning trade on Thursday, the company’s share price was down 0.98% to R165.76. In the week to April 8, the company has been the worst performer in the food and drug retailers index, falling 3.62%. The strike by Pikitup refuse collection company workers in Johannesburg is also continuing.

Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in Gauteng says Pikitup workers have been consistent in their demands since 2011 but nothing has changed. Workers affiliated to the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) have been on strike for five weeks now. They are demanding a monthly salary of R10,000 for the lowest paid workers, and the resignation of their managing director.

The trade union federation says it has intervened in negotiations as Pikitup and Samwu went back to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Friday morning. Cosatu’s Dumisani Dakile says the workers’ demands are reasonable: ‘This matter arose in 2011.

‘The city gave commitment at that particular moment that it’s a matter that it will address over a certain period of time, but we’ve not seen demonstration on the side of the city in them addressing this particular question. So, it’s not that the workers’ demands are unreasonable.’

A Cosatu Gauteng statement said: ‘The strike action has been caused precisely by the failure of the City to respected and implement both the 2011 agreement and also the 2015 facilitated agreement reached by parties. We have been involved once again behind the scenes to attempt to bring parties back to the negotiating table under the auspices of the CCMA. The first round of negotiations had taken place in seeking to resolve the current impasse and end the industrial action which has thrown the lives of so many people in danger. We are confident that parties are on the brink of finding the lasting solution to the strike action.

‘We are appealing to the City of Johannesburg to bring either the City Manager or the Chief Operation Officer as part of the delegation because in our observation people being sent to form part of the negotiation process are juniors who have no authority to take decisions and as such is frustrating the process. We are also appealing to the City of Johannesburg to take this opportunity as presented to find the lasting solutions to the current strike action and to bring the situation back to normality.

‘We further appeal to the City to suspend the current Managing Director and to submit the allegation to an independent body for investigation. We also condemn the criminal elements which seem to be taking advantage of the current strike action and fermenting violence in the name of SAMWU.’

Striking Metrorail workers in the Western Cape have decided to temporarily abandon their industrial action, after consulting with lawyers. The South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) had planned to embark on an indefinite strike on Thursday over ‘poor management’ of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) and the ‘blatant exploitation of workers’.

SATAWU also demanded that temporary workers be made permanent. But the strike was brought to a halt when Metrorail obtained a court interdict on Wednesday evening. This meant that the strike became unprotected. SATAWU Western Cape secretary Thembela Dakuse said on Thursday the union had instructed its members to return to work following the granting of the interdict, but expressed frustration that Metrorail had approached the courts at the eleventh hour.

She said the union had approached the labour court to challenge the granting of the interdict and the matter would be heard on April 20. Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker said on Thursday the company had sought legal recourse in order to prevent the backbone of public transport in the Western Cape from being affected.

Metrorail, a division of Prasa, has come under pressure because its rail commuter services are in a serious state of decline after decades of underinvestment, deferred maintenance, outdated technology and the loss of critical staff and skills. Meanwhile, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) says it is appalled that 20 of its members were shot with rubber bullets and injured while protesting at the Shanduka Mine in Mpumalanga on Tuesday.

The union says workers have been on strike for four months now over wage disputes.

Police said it is understood private security guards used rubber bullets to disperse a group of protesters demonstrating outside the Wonderfontein Coal Mine. They say the protesters were blocking a Harvest vehicle’s entrance to a farm when security guards intervened. The police’s Kwapa Mcdonald said investigations continue while no arrests have been made.

He said: ‘While they were busy, allocated to the demarcated area where they were supposed to stand in their protest, it was alleged that Bidvest Security guards came to them to disperse them using rubber bullets.’

But Amcu spokesperson Manzini Zungu says there is no excuse for the behaviour as the strike is legal and taking place in a protected area. He said: ‘Some of them are in hospital and are in a serious condition but there have been no fatalities reported.’

Glencore has laid arson charges against Amcu, the mining company said on Thursday. The company alleged that, following the shooting incident when 20 strikers were injured by rubber bullets, Amcu strikers torched two trucks and offices at the Wonderfontein Mine on Wednesday night, taking the petrol bomb incidents to around ten since the strike started. Around 60 striking workers accused of intimidating other employees and damaging nearby farms have been arrested.

• A memorandum airing the Dunoon community’s grievances has been handed over to the City of Cape Town. This comes after a violent protest, which erupted late last Wednesday night in the township, evolved into a demonstration in front of the Cape Town Civic Centre.

Hundreds of Dunoon residents were joined by Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in their demonstration in front of the civic centre. Protesters from the community had been demonstrating since late last Wednesday night. The EFF’s Tlhabanelo Diholo said residents called on the party to help them in their plight.

He said: ‘People are landless and they’ve been landless for so many years. They’ve come to the mayor of this city and she is not responding to their grievances. They’ve approached the counsellor, who is not interested in listening.’

The city’s community facilitator Elgan Fortune received the group’s memorandum listing their grievances, which includes a lack of housing in the area, on behalf of the mayor.

Community leader Dolly Vinqeshe says residents are frustrated. She said: ‘We are lacking houses and the community is over-populated. As you can see, each and every day there is a blocked drain and each and every day there are no playgrounds for our children.’